School Bus Safety Tips
Every weekday morning around 25 million children across America board school buses. For years regulators have said that school buses are the safest form of transportation for students, but recent school bus crashes, like the fatal crash in Chattanooga in November 22, 2016, remind parents that there are still very real risks. An average of 23 school age children die in school bus related accidents each year. Here are five key school bus safety tips to keep your kids from harm on their way to and from school.
1. Research Your School Bus
The first of our school bus safety tips involves finding out exactly how safe—or unsafe—your child’s school bus is now. Here’s what you need to check:
Is It a Bus or a Van?
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, school buses are the safest method of transportation for students traveling to and from school. Some schools, however, use large passenger vans, instead of school buses, to save money. Not only is there a federal ban on dealerships selling these vans for use in transporting schoolchildren, but also these school-bus substitutes can be downright dangerous.
The height and design of school buses have been purposefully chosen to prevent injuries in case of a bus crash, and the familiar big yellow buses are operated by drivers with commercial licenses or special training. Large passengers vans are unlikely to hold up as well in an accident and can be driven by any licensed driver.
A quick look in the doorjamb of your child’s school bus (or on the driver’s side above the windshield) should reveal a certification sticker that labels the vehicle clearly as a school bus.
Are There Seatbelts?
On November 8, 2015, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) revised its position on seat belts, with NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind announcing, “The position of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is that seat belts save lives. That is true whether in a passenger car or in a big yellow bus.” Rosekind went on to say that the NHTSA believes “every child on every school bus should have a three-point seat belt.”
Despite this, many school buses — especially older ones — do not have seat belts. If they do, the belts are often lap belts, as opposed to the safer three-point system. While some bus manufacturers and drivers claim that the design of school bus seats eliminates the need for seat belts, there are still great risks in bus crashes that involve being hit from the side or the bus rolling over. Take a look at your child’s school bus and see if there are seat belts, and, if so, what kind they are.
Is There Room for Everyone?
An overcrowded bus can leave students perched haphazardly on the edge of seats or even standing in the aisles. In the event of a bus accident, the design of the school bus seats (and any seat belts that might be on board) will provide no protection to those children.
Pay attention to your bus’ capacity and whether you see students unable to fit comfortably on seats.
2. Get to Know Your Driver
In the case of the Chattanooga school bus crash that killed six children, police believe that the driver was driving recklessly and speeding. There had also been complaints filed against the driver and he was in another school bus accident only two months before.
Knowing more about the individual driving your child to school is important. An easy way to begin this process is by simply getting to know the school bus driver. Talk with him or her and ask questions. If you have concerns after the conversation, contact your school district to find out how they screen drivers and how they monitor any new activity on employee driving records.
3. Involve Your Child in School Bus Safety
While you can put these school bus safety tips into practice from home or for a few minutes each day, your child will see much more of what actually happens on the school bus in their daily travels. These are some of the things they need to know:
- Educate them about the importance of putting on their seatbelt, if their school bus has them.
- Remind them that moving from their seat when the bus is in motion isn’t safe, and that they should always be seated properly (not lying down or seated with their legs up).
- Inform them about dangerous driving. Ask them to tell you if they see their driver texting or driving distractedly, and to let you know if they ever feel unsafe on the bus.
4. Speak Up About Issues
As a parent, your voice counts. If you discover your school bus doesn’t have seat belts (or doesn’t have three-point seat belts), speak to your school district about school bus safety. Get in touch with other parents to join together in calling upon the administration to make changes.
If your child’s school bus driver has given you reason to be concerned, or your child has voiced concerns to you, take that information to your principal, and, if necessary, to the bus company contracted by the school. Contact other parents to see if they’ve noticed similar issues or if their children have said anything similar to yours, and present that information as well.
Finally, you can file a complaint through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
5. Follow Up on School Bus Safety
While it’s important to convey any issues to your school, it’s equally important to follow up on what’s being done about them. Check back in with your principal about a bus driver that may be driving recklessly, or continue to call on your school district to add seat belts to their school buses. It may take more than one try to get resolutions to the issues you’re facing, and it may require contacting multiple people or organizations. In the end, though, it’s worth it to ensure your child’s safety.