Back-to-School: Hop on the bus, Gus, with these safety tips

Consumer Reports News: August 24, 2010 12:09 AM

If you've got a little one who rides the bus to school, it's a safe bet you worry. When I attended my son's kindergarten orientation, the majority of questions for our school's principal concerned the big yellow bus: Would it be safe, would the kids know how to behave, should parents follow behind it and make sure their little darlings actually made it to school in one piece?

Every day, more than 23 million children across the country ride in school buses, which are actually the safest form of transportation for children. A school bus is more than seven times as safe as mini-vans, stations wagons, and other passenger vehicles. Being bigger is better: a bus's size means it is more like a heavy truck and results in lower forces to school bus passengers than those experienced by passengers in cars, SUVs, or vans. By design, school buses are also "compartmentalized" to provide crash protection through their higher energy-absorbing seat backs and closely spaced seating rows. 

But Consumers Union believes that all school buses should have seat belts. David Champion, who heads our auto testing operation, says seat belts are particularly important for any bus that drives on the highway, such as those used for field trips and off-site sporting events.    

School bus safety is—if you'll pardon the pun—a two-way street. Take some time to teach children the do's and don'ts of riding the school bus. Tell  them to use seatbelts (if available), stay seated, and, when walking, cross at least 10 feet (kid speak: 10 giant steps) in front of the bus. Reminders (aka nagging) will keep the message fresh. I thank the bus driver every day for his hard work in what must surely be one of life's most demanding jobs.

As a motorist, keep a sharp eye out for kids and buses. Boarding and exiting the bus are the riskiest times for children. Motorists must be super-vigilant when near school buses. Obey the stop arm signal and red flashing lights outside the bus and do not pass until the signals are turned off. Never pass a bus on the right side where children exit and enter. Since children may be distracted (by friends, backpacks, or Silly Bandz), it's important that motorists keep a close watch when driving in school areas and neighborhoods.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers these safety suggestions:

  • Supervise children to make sure they get to the bus stop on time.
  • Make sure they wait on the curb away from the road and avoid rough play.
  • Teach your child to ask the driver for help if he/she drops something near the bus. A driver cannot see a child who may bend down to pick something up. Have your child use a backpack or bag to keep loose items contained.
  • Make sure clothing and backpacks have no loose drawstrings or long straps that may get caught in the handrail or bus door.
  • Encourage safe school bus loading and unloading.
  • If you think a bus stop is in a dangerous place, talk with your school or transportation office about changing the location.

For more on school bus safety, see the Safe Kids USA tips. 

See our previous posts on school safetyTomorrow: walking or pedaling safely to school.

—Desiree Ferenczi

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