Over the next several weeks, millions of children will be starting a new school year. As kids head back to the classroom, it is important to understand the hazards of sharing the road with children and school buses.

Facts and Figures
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), from 2006 to 2015, 102 school-age pedestrians (18-years old and younger) died in school-transportation related crashes. One in every three school-age pedestrians were struck by other vehicles (cars, light trucks and
vans, large trucks, motorcycles). Our youngest students (ages five-years old to seven-years old), accounted for one in every three pedestrian-related fatalities. Students between eight-years old and 13-years old accounted for another one-third of pedestrian related fatalities.
School Bus Laws
All states have laws in place to protect children as they board and exit school buses. Though specifics vary from state-to-state, there are standard rules that apply everywhere.
• Never pass a school bus when its lights are flashing and its stop arm is extended. This means children are boarding or exiting the bus.
• Never pass a school bus on the right side. This is where children enter and exit the bus.
• In many states, school bus drivers can report illegally passing vehicles. The illegal action does not need to be observed by law enforcement for a driver to be cited.

What is the Flashing Light System?
School bus drivers use the “flashing signal light system” to alert motorists of pending actions. Yellow flashing lights indicate that the bus is preparing to stop to load or unload children. Drivers must slow down and prepare to stop their vehicles. Red flashing lights and an extended stop arm indicate that the bus has stopped and that children are getting on or off the bus. Drivers must stop and wait until:
• The red lights stop flashing
• The stop arm is withdrawn
• The bus begins to move

Use Caution in a School Zone
A school zone is a section of roadway near a school or school crosswalk where signs provide notice that a school is nearby and children may be present.
In a school zone, the posted speed limit is greatly reduced. This provides drivers more time to react to unexpected actions by children within the school zone. When driving through a school zone and in the area surrounding a school, a driver’s attention needs to be focused on the road, looking out for potential hazards. Follow these driving tips in school zones or in areas where children may be waiting to board or get off a bus:
• Slow down. Speed limits are usually 15-20 miles an hour in school zones when children are present, so be sure to abide by the speed limit signs. Younger children can’t judge a vehicle’s speed and they don’t fully understand the dangers posed by moving vehicles.
• Stay alert. Even if you follow the speed limit, you can’t always predict the behavior of a child. Children walking or bicycling on the roads or sidewalks near a school may be distracted by the day’s events or excited to see friends. They may enter the street in the course of conversation or playing. Remember, children are not always paying attention to what is going on around them, including on the road. Be extra cautious and allow plenty of space to be able to stop quickly if needed.
• Obey the signals of crossing guards. Slow down and be prepared to stop when the crossing guard signals for traffic to yield.
• Watch out for other vehicles. Parents may be trying to merge into traffic after
dropping off or picking up their children. They may be distracted and not paying attention to traffic.
• Be extra cautious when driving near a high school. You may encounter teenage drivers distracted by cell phones and/or by passengers. They may not signal turns or even look before turning, they may brake at the last second, and they may cut you off, not even realizing it. They do not know what it takes for you to avoid them or to stop. Be prepared for anything they may do.

Defensive Driving
The best way to prevent a fatal crash is by being alert, paying extra attention, and following defensive driving practices when driving in a school zone or approaching a bus stop. This includes:
• Continually scanning the road
• Paying extra attention in school zones
• Reducing speed as necessary
• Watching for children gathering near bus stops
• Watching for children walking in the road
• Never passing a school bus on the right side
• Never passing a school bus when its lights are flashing and its stop arm is extended
• Always expecting the unexpected

Article appeared in PacLease’s August Newsletter.