Back to School: Tips for Avoiding School Bus Accidents
Fall is here, and this is the time of year when millions of children across the country go back to school. In Alabama, nearly 375,000 kids ride the bus to and from school each day. All told, there are more than 8,200 buses that service the state’s public school system – putting on more than 66 million miles on the roadways each year.
Statistically, riding a bus is one of the safest ways for school-aged kids to travel. Buses are much larger and weigh much more than passenger cars, and there are fewer fatalities (per 100,000 miles traveled) involving passengers on school buses than with most other modes of transportation. Nationwide, there are usually between 125 and 150 school bus fatalities each year.
Although school bus travel is generally pretty safe, accidents do sometimes happen. Just last month, a 17-year-old high school student who was going to be class president of his senior class died after the car he was driving collided with a school bus on highway 165 near Phenix City, AL. Another recent incident happened up the road in Benton County, Mississippi, where a school bus driver died and 8 children were injured when the bus crashed and rolled onto its side. In this case, the driver may have died of cardiac arrest.
Even if just one of our kids is lost because of a school bus accident, that is one life too many. And with school back in full swing, it is important for us as parents and drivers who share the roads with buses to do our part to keep our children safe.
Here are some tips for children and parents/drivers to help avoid accidents with school buses:
- Arrive at the Bus Stop Early
Much of the danger school buses pose to kids occurs when kids are pedestrians on their way to the bus stop. Walking down roads and sidewalks can be hazardous, and even more so when you are rushing at the last minute to catch the bus. To reduce the chances of hazards such as slipping, tripping, falling, and running across the road in front of oncoming vehicles, be sure to leave your house early and in plenty of time to catch the bus. It is generally best to plan on arriving at the bus stop about five minutes ahead of schedule.
- Stay Safe while Waiting for the Bus
When you are at the bus stop, keep a safe distance from the road, preferably about 10 feet or further. Also, when the bus pulls up, stay out of the “danger zone” – the 10-foot wide area that extends out from each side of the bus. This is the area where bus drivers have the most difficulty seeing children. Finally, avoid horseplay with other kids at the bus stop as this increases the risk of getting too close to the road or landing inside the danger zone.
- Board the Bus Carefully
When you are getting on the bus, do so with caution. Wait for the bus to stop and for the driver to open the door before walking toward the entrance. While boarding, use the handrails to keep your balance and get on the bus safely. Once you are on the bus and in your seat, be sure to fasten your seat belt.
- Give Buses Plenty of Space
When you are driving behind or near a bus, slow down and give the bus plenty of space. Buses frequently slow down and stop to pick up and drop off kids, and it is important to give them the room they need to do this safely. It is also important to note that buses are required to come to a complete stop at all railroad crossings, so be ready to stop if you are behind a bus when you are approaching railroad tracks.
- Avoid Distracted Driving
Motorists have numerous distractions to deal with these days, and one of the most dangerous is the use of smartphones for texting and other electronic activity. You should refrain from texting while driving at all times, but especially when you are near a school bus or driving in a school zone. While most kids take the bus, some kids walk and ride their bikes to school. You need to stay focused on the roads at all times so as to avoid collisions with not only buses, but with other cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians as well.
- Obey Alabama School Bus Laws
In recent years, Alabama has begun cracking down on motorists who fail to stop when they are supposed to around a school bus. Under most circumstances, drivers in the Yellowhammer State are not allowed to pass a stopped school or church bus. If you are driving behind a bus, you must stop when their signal arm is raised and remain stopped until the signal arm is lowered again. If you are approaching a bus from the other direction, the same rules apply unless you are driving on a 4 or 6 lane divided highway where there is a barrier or unpaved area that divides the directional lanes.
Drivers who violate Alabama school bus laws can be hit with fines of $150 to $300 for a first offense, and $300 to $500 along with a 30-day driver’s license suspension and 100 hours of community service for a second offense. Penalties increase from there, and you could even be charged with a felony for a fourth offense. If you think you can get away with it, keep in mind that many school districts are now installing stop arm cameras on their buses, which can provide video evidence of the offense showing your license plate number.
Injured in a School Bus Accident in Alabama? Speak with an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer
Despite our best efforts to stay safe, we cannot control external factors, such as the negligent or reckless actions of other parties. If you or your child has suffered injury in a school bus accident that was someone else’s fault, you have the right to seek compensation. Alabama vehicle accident claims can be complicated, however, and the legal standards applied in these types of cases are weighted in favor of defendants. In a state like this, you need a skilled accident injury attorney in your corner fighting hard to protect your legal rights and interests.
At Smith & McGhee, Attorneys at Law, we are ready to go to work for you! Call our office today at 334-702-1744 or message us online to schedule a consultation and case assessment with one of our lawyers.