This is a reminder that can never be made enough: Watch out for school buses.
Despite their size, bright signature yellow-orange color, flashing red lights and extending "stop" signs, some people still miss them.
Kids miss them if they're not on time to catch their ride.
Distracted or uncaring drivers tend to buzz on by them even as they're stopped to pick up school children or drop them off. Thus accidents happen — a child or bus gets hit.
But with some planning and precaution, missed rides and accidents can be prevented.
Mike Gardner is the district manager for the Bennington, Vt., branch of bus company, Dufour Tours, which is headquartered in Hinsdale, Mass., and also serves Berkshire County, Mass., schools.
He said that while the company and its drivers aim to do everything they can to keep students safe, kids, families and motorists can also do their part to cooperate.
"The most important things is to pay attention to bus driver," Gardner said.
In addition to turning on flashing light indicators and extending the arm of the stop sign mounted on the bus side, school bus drivers also are trained to give verbal instructions and use gestures and hand signals to indicate when it is clear and safe for students to enter and exit a bus.
Overall, families should have a pick-up and drop-off plan for kids taking the bus to and from school. This includes knowing the bus number and route; knowing the exact pick-up and drop-off locations; and knowing the times of arrival and departure. For young bus riders, and those who are taking a new route, it would even be practical to practice walking to and from the stops to know how to get there and how long it will take.
"Getting [kids] on the right bus shouldn't be that difficult, but having them ready early is important. Going out to the bus stop at least 10 minutes early is great. That way they're not running and they can avoid the risk of getting hit by a car," Gardner said. "Unfortunately, as hard as our drivers try, they can't always pick up kids on same side of the street that they live on."
That said, motorists need to be aware that 'tis the season for school buses, vans and student carpools to be on the road and making stops. Gardner said in his Bennington district, drivers begin picking up students as early as 6:15 a.m. and are dropping them off at 4:30 p.m. or later, due to after school activities and athletic games.
In Massachusetts, the law says no person shall operate a motor vehicle within a distance of 100 feet behind a school bus. That's because buses make frequent stops to drop off and pick up students, and they're also required by state laws to stop at railroad tracks. Buses typically will begin indicating a stop with flashing lights at least 200 feet before actually stopping.
In both Massachusetts and Vermont, state laws require that motorists stop for busses in both directions on your typical two-lane roadway when the bus lights are flashing; exceptions to this rule on highways vary by state. Failing to stop or illegally passing a stopped school bus with flashing lights can result in $250 fine in Massachusetts and five traffic violation points against a driver in Vermont. Infractions and fines increase with the number of offenses and could result in the suspension of a driver's license and increases insurance costs due to documented reckless behavior.
School bus drivers, in addition to requirements of following traffic and school zone laws, have additional responsibilities in keeping kids safe. They have to maintain first-aid kits and training, and maintain their vehicle to safety standards inside and out. At least twice a year, in the fall and in the spring, they facilitate emergency exit drills with students. School bus drivers are also mandated to report to proper authorities incidents of bullying, delinquent behavior or signs of child abuse.
Students themselves also have a responsibility to be on their best behavior while riding the bus.
Gardner said, "Kids are going to talk, but try to use an inside voice, face forward and stay in your seats. If you do this, there will pretty much be zero problems."
Kids should also follow instructions to take five giant steps or be at least 10 feet away from the bus and wait for the driver's signal before crossing in front of the bus and a roadway.
He noted that "parents need to support the bus drivers as much as they can," in teaching kids bus riding etiquette and getting to the bus stop on time, and that, in terms of behavior, "kids have just as much control over how there ride is."
The National Safety Council has additional tips for a safe ride including:
• When waiting for the bus, stay away from traffic and avoid roughhousing or other behavior that can lead to carelessness.
• Keep aisles clear of books and bags.
• Use the handrail when boarding and exiting the bus.
• If your vision is blocked, move to an area where you can see other drivers and they can see you before crossing.
• Stay away from the rear wheels of the bus at all times.
For more tips, visit: nsc.org