As students head back to school, safety is paramount near school buses. Breakstone, White & Gluck offers reminders to help parents and drivers make safe decisions.
Parents: Learn Massachusetts School Bus Safety Laws
School transportation offices offer a wealth of information, including on safety procedures, safety laws and bus routes. Read the materials your school transportation office sends you promptly. Save the office phone number in your cell phone contacts.
You can also learn by asking your child what they learn. In Massachusetts, students are required to receive classroom instruction on safe riding practices at least three times each school year, under M.G.L. c. 90, § 7B. School districts are also required to conduct twice a year on-bus emergency evacuation drills. You can learn more from the School Health Services website.
The Risk for School Bus Accidents and Injuries
In 2019, there were 109 fatalities and 13,000 injuries in school bus-related accidents across the U.S., according to the National Safety Council data tabulations. School bus passengers suffered about 6 percent of deaths and 34 percent of injuries in school bus-related accidents between 2010 and 2019. Drivers and passengers in other vehicles suffered nearly 70 percent of the deaths and 53 percent of the injuries. Pedestrians accounted for 17 percent of all deaths.
One important insight: Two-thirds of all children killed in school bus-related fatalities are outside the vehicle at the time, according to the National Safety Council. This means the steps we all take to help students get on and off the school bus safely are critical.
School districts and bus companies have a responsibility to hire school bus drivers who are licensed, trained and have safe driving records. In addition, they have a duty to maintain the mechanical operations and keep a work log. Meanwhile, other drivers on the road have a responsibility to use caution and follow safety laws near school buses. Drivers who take this responsibility seriously can make the drive easier and safer for school children, bus drivers and others on the road.
- As a parent, learn as much as you can about school bus safety procedures from your school.
- Ask about training requirements, criminal and sexual offender registry checks and physical exams drivers must undergo.
- Support and reinforce what your child learns at school and from the bus driver.
- Take a ride on the school bus with your child if you have the chance.
- Notice your child’s bus driver must wear a seat belt. Your child’s school district may or may not have installed seat belts for children. They are not required by state law. School districts can install them following federal safety standards.
- Seat belts are, however, required in other school transportation vehicles, including vans and vehicles carrying 8 or fewer passengers.
- Join your child at the school bus stop. Help them learn how to get on and off the school bus safely.
- Read permission slips and ask questions before you allow your child to ride the bus for sporting events and field trips. Ask if the school district will provide the bus and bus driver, or if a private company has been contracted. Ask for emergency contact numbers and procedures specific to the trip, should the bus be delayed or if there is a safety issue.
Teaching Children How to Get On and Off a School Bus Safely
Getting On a School Bus Safely
For a young child, the sight of a school bus can be exciting and over stimulating.
Walk your child through the steps of safety. Teach them to recognize the difference between yellow and red.
Explain that the school bus will approach and flash its yellow lights as it slows down, but that your child should not move toward the bus yet. This is a good time for your child to pick up their backpack and stand at least 10 feet back from the road.
Your child should wait for the school bus to reach a full stop, flash its red lights and extend the stop sign. The bus driver will open the door, make eye contact with your child and let them know they can board the bus.
Exit a School Bus Safely
When stepping off the bus, your child should cross the street in front of the school bus, never behind. Your child should step off the road and onto the sidewalk right away. Let your child know if they leave any belongings on the school bus, you can call the school transportation office later.
It is not safe to turn back because school bus drivers and other drivers are not expecting this. While school bus drivers are supposed to check mirrors before moving ahead with their route, there is a very real risk they will not see your child. The greater risk is other drivers may become impatient and start to move toward your child before the bus has stopped flashing its safety lights.
Other Drivers Should Keep a Safe Distance From School Buses
Other drivers have a responsibility to travel safely near school buses and follow traffic laws. This starts with traveling at slower speeds and being prepared to stop.
In Massachusetts, “no person shall operate a motor vehicle within a distance of 100 feet behind a school bus,” per M.G.L. c. 90, § 14. Drivers must also reach a full stop for school buses that have stopped and activated signals to let children on or off. Drivers must remain stopped until the school bus pulls back its stop sign and starts moving again.
Never pass a school bus that has stopped and is flashing its lights. You can cause a very serious accident involving a school bus or another vehicle. Drivers who violate this law can expect a $250 fine for the first offense if they are caught by police or if the school bus driver reports their license plate, M.G.L. c. 90, § 14. Repeat offenders can face additional fines up to $2,000 and license suspensions – all for making a reckless decision stemming from impatience. This is a decision you will only regret later, especially if you cause someone injury and face a civil lawsuit seeking financial damages.
These are simple laws. But many drivers follow school buses more closely than they realize. Next time, try leaving a little more room. You will give the school bus driver more time and open up your own view of the road, helping you to make safer decisions and avoid a collision with the bus or a car accident.
Just as important is safety near school bus stops. Slow down near school bus stops. Never back up your car out of your driveway near a school bus stop. Park your car in a position that allows you to drive out safely in the morning or wait until the bus has come and gone.
While parents and children should stay 10 feet back from the road, there are times when children or pets may step into the road. You have to be prepared to stop – and be patient to avoid an accident.
Distracted Driving Near School Buses
Picking up a cell phone can be a deadly decision near a school bus, where young children and other pedestrians and cyclists may approach your vehicle closely at times. Commit to safety and focus on the roads, not your device, as students head back to school.
The Dangers of School Buses at Intersections
School buses can obstruct a driver’s view at an intersection. Stay back 100 feet or more so you can watch for the school bus as well as pedestrians and cyclists, and avoid a traffic accident.
Remember that pedestrians may approach near sidewalks and crosswalks, but cyclists may travel in the traffic lane or to the right of traffic. If a school bus has stopped in front of you at an intersection, you may not be able to see if a cyclist has stopped next to them until traffic starts to move.