While National School Bus Safety Week doesn't start until mid-October, the start of the new school year marks an appropriate time to address the issue of school bus accidents.
Alabama injury lawyers know they are far too common - and they are almost always preventable.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Association reports that more than 25 million children board some 475,000 school buses each year. In Alabama last school year, there were about 375,000 public school students riding the bus every day, with nearly half a million miles traveled collectively each day.
That's a lot of opportunity for accidents.
We know that there are relatively few child deaths due to school bus accidents (on average, about 8 per year), but more than 8,000 are injured. That's actually a fairly low estimate, as the American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that more than 17,000 kids show up in hospital emergency rooms to be treated for school bus-related accidents.
Bus drivers can be responsible for child injuries when they slam on the brakes or turn corners too sharply.
However, the vast majority of accidents occur when kids are getting on and off the bus. In fact, kids are three times more likely to be fatally injured while outside or near the bus than while actually on it. There are a large number of child injuries that occur while students are walking to the bus stop or waiting for the bus. Children must often navigate busy roads, sometimes in the dark, to get to their stop.
It's possible in some cases that a driver simply may not see the child, but most injury-causing accidents occur because other drivers are impatient. They are more concerned about getting to their destination than the safety of our children. About 40 percent of school bus pedestrian accidents involve young children, primarily between the ages of 5 and 7, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Recognizing this, Alabama legislators enacted a measure in 2006 that requires vehicles attempting to pass a school bus to come to a complete stop when the bus displays its red flashing stop sign, indicating children are being picked up or dropped off. This applies to drivers moving in both directions, except when traveling in the opposite direction on a divided highway. Violation of this statute will result in a fine of $400, and second-time offenders will lose their license and have to perform 100 hours of community service.
Unfortunately, no penalty is going to prevent every driver from being careless around school buses. With that in mind, here are some ways your children can protect themselves from danger:
- Always walk - never run - to the bus stop.
- Walk on the sidewalk, if there is one. If there is no sidewalk, walk on the left of the road, facing traffic, so that you can easily see vehicles coming toward you.
- While at your bus stop, do not run and play. Wait in a safe place, away from the road.
- When getting off the bus, make sure you take at least three giant steps away from the door. Stay away from the wheels of the bus and watch out for cars.
- If you leave something on the bus, don't try to go back and get it. The driver may not see you trying to get in and could start moving before you've gotten all the way on.