The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is responding to a rash of student fatalities and injuries this week at school bus stops, by urging motorists to pay more attention and “exercise caution.”
NHTSA Deputy Administrator Heidi King on Friday addressed student fatalities and injuries in Florida, Indiana, Mississippi and Pennsylvania with a video message that urged motorists to obey state school bus loading and unloading laws.
“I want drivers to know that it is illegal in all 50 states to pass a school bus when the red lights are flashing and the stop arms are extended,” she said in a YouTube video. “Failing to do so puts precious lives at risk. As a country we need to do better. We must keep our children safe.”
NHTSA pointed out that flashing yellow lights alert motorists that the school bus is about to stop to load or unload children. Motorists should slow down and then come to a complete stop once the red lights flash and the stop arm extends. NHTSA said motorists should only proceed once the red lights stop flashing, the stop arm is withdrawn and the bus begins moving.
NHTSA has told NASDPTS it seeks to study school bus stop safety, but a representative was unable to provide any details to state directors of student transportation and other interested parties this week during industry meetings in Kansas City.
Meanwhile, the agency also provided other school zone safety tips. All motorists should be alert and slow down when driving in neighborhoods with school zones, and to watch for children walking, playing or assembling near bus stops.
As for students and their caregivers, they should arrive at bus stops at least five minutes before the bus arrives and to stand at least six feet away from the curb or side of the road. There should never be any running or playing at bus stops.
Students should also wait untill the school bus comes to a complete stop before approaching the bus door, and they should use the handrail when climbing the steps into the bus.
NHTSA said no one should ever walk behind a school bus. Instead, they should use the sidewalk or walk along the side of the road. Students should walk at least 10 feet in front of the bus when crossing the street, and to make eye contact with their driver when doing so, to make sure the driver can see them.
No mention was made about school bus drivers waving students across when it is safe to do so, as is the school bus industry’s recommendation.
If students drop an object like a backpack or lunchbox near the school bus, NHTSA said they should notify the driver and not try to pick up the item. Student fatalities and injuries in the loading and unloading zone that are not caused by illegal passers often occur when the student is struck or caught in the loading doors and dragged by their own bus.