AAA warns motorists about dangers at school bus stops

LEXINGTON — Just one week after School Bus Safety Week, five children are dead, while nine other children and two adults have been injured, all in incidents occurring at or near school bus stops. Among the injured were two children in Louisville struck by a hit-and-run driver while crossing a busy intersection to get to their bus stop.

Motorists need to be particularly diligent about avoiding use of mobile devices and other distractions, slowing down and staying alert during the morning and afternoon hours when school buses are more likely to be on the road, reminds AAA. The end of Daylight Saving Time this week-end can also bring potential challenges to motorists, including changes in sleep patterns, increased chances of drowsy driving and fewer hours of daylight during evening commutes.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the school bus is the safest vehicle on the road, keeping your child safer while traveling to and from school than traveling by car.

“The greatest risk to your child is not riding a bus, but approaching or leaving one,” said Lori Weaver Hawkins, AAA Blue Grass manager of public and government affairs. “It’s important that parents, students, teachers, motorists, school bus operators, school administrators, and other safety advocates join forces to build awareness of the importance of school bus safety and the dangers of distracted driving.”

Every day, about 500,000 school buses transport more than 23 million students to and from school. From 2006 to 2015, there were 1,313 people killed in school transportation-related accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. During the 2016-17 school year in Kentucky, school buses were involved in over 1,000 traffic incidents, most of which involved other vehicles, according to the Kentucky Department of Education. Nearly 250 of those incidents occurred when the bus was approaching, stopped at or leaving a loading zone.

“In addition to following the rules of the road, motorists are also reminded to put away phones and other distractions, and to keep focused on the road as buses can stop and start frequently, picking up and dropping off students,” Weaver Hawkins added. “In addition to the dangers of distracted driving, changing weather conditions and shortened daylight hours can make for particularly dangerous situations.”

AAA offers these tips for students taking the bus and for motorists sharing the road:

WHILE WAITING AT THE BUS STOP

• Have children wait in a location where the bus driver can easily see them while driving down the street.

• Do not let children play in or near the street. Playing with balls or other toys that could roll into the street is also dangerous.

• Stand at least five giant steps (10 feet) away from the edge of the road.

• Children should be reminded to obey the AAA School Safety Patrol, crossing guard, officer or supervising adult, if present.

GETTING ON AND OFF THE BUS

• Children should wait until the bus comes to a complete stop, the door opens, and the driver says it’s okay before approaching the bus door to get onto or off the bus. Your child should use the handrails to avoid falling.

• Warn children that if they drop something getting on and off the bus, they should never attempt to pick it up. Instead, they should tell the driver and follow the driver’s instructions.

• Remind children to stop at the edge of the bus and look left and right before crossing.

• Your child should never walk behind a school bus. If your child must cross the street in front of the bus, tell him/her to walk on a sidewalk or along the side of the street to a place at least five giant steps (10 feet) in front of the bus before crossing. Your child should also make eye contact with the bus driver before crossing to make sure the driver can see him/her.

• If you meet your child at the bus stop after school, wait on the side where the child will be dropped off, not across the street. Children can be so excited to see you after school that they dash across the street and forget the safety rules.

WHILE DRIVING

• Do not drive distracted.

• Slow down. Watch for children walking to and from the bus stop as well as standing at the bus stop. Watch for children walking in the street, especially if the neighborhood has no sidewalks.

• Be mindful when backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage. Watch for children walking or bicycling to school.

• Yellow flashing lights on a school bus mean that a bus is preparing to stop. Do not try to pass the bus! Begin slowing and prepare to stop your vehicle.

• Red flashing lights indicate that a bus has stopped to load or unload children. Stop your car and wait for the bus lights to stop flashing before moving your vehicle. Passing a loading or unloading school bus is reckless driving.

For motorists, being caught behind a school bus can be frustrating and may require additional patience at times, but safe driving can avoid tragedy. It is important to know that all 50 states have laws surrounding school bus safety and ignoring those laws can result in hefty fines. AAA’s Digest of Motor Laws provides information on each state’s law related to buses.

In Kentucky, there are two rules to remember about traveling on the roadways with buses:

If any school or church bus is stopped and has a stop arm and signal lights activated, any vehicle approaching from any direction must stop and may not proceed until the bus has been put into motion. This rule does not apply when approaching a stopped bus from the opposite direction upon a highway of 4 or more lanes.

School buses, loaded or unloaded, cannot turn right on red in Kentucky or left on red where two one way streets intersect.

AAA provides automotive, travel and insurance services to 57 million members nationwide and more than 600,000 members in Kentucky. AAA advocates for the safety and mobility of its members and has been committed to outstanding road service for more than 100 years. The not-for-profit, fully tax-paying member organization works on behalf of motorists, who can now map a route, find local gas prices, discover discounts, book a hotel and track their roadside assistance service with the AAA Mobile app for iPhone, iPad and Android. For more information, visit www.aaa.com.