School Bus Accidents, How Safe is Your Child?

In recent weeks, the number of school busses seen on the roads around Rhode Island has increased due to classes reopening.  The busses come in all shapes and sizes, large and small. In general, they are three to four times longer than the average car, twice as tall, painted bright yellow and have flashing lights. It’s difficult to imagine that anyone couldn’t see one. But accidents do happen.

According to statistics, a child is more likely to be hit by a school bus rather than be injured from an accident while riding on the bus.  Providing safety belts on buses is an ongoing debate. Some states have passed laws mandating safety belts on school busses, but RI has not. It is important to note that all school busses need to meet federal safety requirements for seats, windows and other elements that add to the overall safety of the vehicle. A key safety concept in full-sized school buses is called "compartmentalization." The thickly padded bench seats are spaced close together and have high backs, creating a compartment that protects passengers in a collision.

Experts say that school busses remain the safest option for a child to go to and from school but there are ways that the safety can be improved. Adults can teach children these basic safety rules:

  • Stay at least 10 feet away from a bus until it's time to get on. Then wait your turn and get on one at a time
  • Before stepping off the bus, look to be sure a car isn't coming
  • Don't linger or play near the bus after you leave it
  • Take 5 giant steps out in front of the bus before you cross the street. Be sure the driver sees you and signals that it's OK to cross in front of the bus
  • Before crossing the street, make sure all cars on the road are stopped

In addition to teaching children bus stop safety, adults can make the biggest difference in children’s safety by practicing safe driving habits. Following are a few laws to keep in mind the next time you approach a school bus on the road:

  • RI State law 31-20-12 requires approaching drivers to stop before reaching a school bus whenever the bus is operating flashing red lights. The driver shall not proceed until the bus resumes motion or until the flashing lights are no longer actuated
  • Drivers must remain 50 feet behind school buses while driving in the same lane of traffic
  • A person convicted of a violation of the above driving laws shall be punished by a fine not to exceed $300 and/or suspension of driving license for a period not to exceed 30 days for the first offense, and a mandatory fine of not less than $300 nor more than $500 and/or revocation of driving license for a period of one year for each subsequent offense
  • Some school bus companies have equipped their vehicles with cameras to capture license plates of drivers who pass a bus when flashing lights and stop signs are displayed. Law enforcement may issue a summons based on the statement or testimony of a school bus driver, monitor or other private citizen

The safety of our children is a shared responsibility. Practicing safe driving is one way to help ensure that our communities’ school busses remain the safest option to transport students to and from home.

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