It’s an iconic rite of passage: getting on the big yellow school bus the first day of school, maybe posing for a picture on the way up the steps. But before the photo gets sent out on Facebook – actually, before the photo! – make sure you’ve talked with your child about school bus safety.
According to the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration, taking the school bus to school is almost 8 times safer than riding in a car to school. Still, it’s not without its risks, and parents can help reduce those risks by making bus safety an important topic at home.
Waiting for the bus
Bus safety starts before getting on the bus; in fact, it starts before you leave the house!
Talk about the responsibility of riding the bus with your child. In many communities, bus ridership is a privilege, and the privilege can be revoked for poor behavior.
Make sure your child is dressed appropriately for the weather and for getting on the bus, and any backpack or bag your child is carrying is sized appropriately and fully encloses all needed items. Dragging straps, or straps that can get caught on rails can be a safety hazard, as can items dropping out of backpacks that your child might then need to retrieve.
Kids should be out at the bus stop about five minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive. Rushing for the bus as it pulls up to your stop can mean decreased awareness of your surroundings and increased danger.
While older kids can wait for the bus alone, younger kids should have adult supervision at all times (the exact ages will vary according to your kids and community); kids aged 5-7 are at most risk for school bus-related accidents. In weather or low-light conditions, you might want to consider supervision even for the older kids.
Getting on the bus
Waiting for and getting on the bus can be a time of great anticipation. Eager to get on the bus, kids might wait too close to the curb, or even step into the road. They might start playing in an effort to release the anticipation physically. Your child should always be at least five giant steps backfrom where the bus actually stops until it comes to a full and complete stop and the driver opens the door; a 10 foot perimeter around the bus a “danger zone” where driver visibility is limited and you want your child to be well-clear of this area as the bus pulls up.
Your child should not approach the bus to board it until the driver opens the door and signals the okay. This is particularly important when kids need to cross roads to board the bus. And even if the driver does give the okay, keep eyes and ears open. Look both ways and listen for the sounds of oncoming traffic.
If your child should drop something near the bus or while getting on and off the bus, your child should ask for help from the driver before retrieving the item.
Being on the bus
Once on the bus, your child needs to listen to all instructions from the bus driver and stay seated at all times. Often when buses are near busy intersections and train tracks, drivers will ask the children to please quiet down so they can make sure they can hear all surrounding traffic and make subsequent decisions safely; your child must comply with this request.
If there are ever any issues on the school bus, your child’s school bus driver likely will talk to you or the school about it and further discussions with your child about safety may be necessary. If there is a continuing problem, your child may loose ridership privileges.
Getting off the bus
Similar to boarding the bus, your child should wait for the signal from the driver to get up from the seat and exit the bus, then your child should move out of the danger zone as quickly as possible. If your child needs to then cross the road, he or she should wait for another signal from the driver that it’s safe to cross – while, again, keeping their own eyes (look both ways!) and ears open.
Again, loose or dragging straps, or loose books can be a safety hazard if they catch or spill. While most schools and drivers will keep an eye out for this sort of thing, teaching your child about carrying books and backpacks safely is even better.
Bus driver appreciation
Your child’s school bus driver does so much to keep your kids safe that it deserves recognition – and not just at the holidays and the end of the year. Teaching your child bus etiquette and to say thank you every ride, every day is an easy way to show your appreciation.
Your child’s school likely has bus information and guidelines that are distributed to parents prior to the start of the school year. Read and understand these guidelines, and if you have any questions, contact the school or the local police department’s school liaison. If you think there is a safety issue at your bus stop, don’t hesitate to contact the school immediately.
If you feel so compelled, you can get involved in a local school bus safety campaign. This kind of campaign not only talks about school safety with kids, it also target drivers in the community so they are more aware of safety issues and are more respectful of buses.
Several online organizations provide bus safety information and media to the general public, including the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration, the National School Transportation Association, National Association for Pupil Transportation, and others. Make sure that iconic photo of your child with the big yellow school bus is a picture of safety.