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Can we help our children be safer in and around school buses?

By Ken Gibson on December 4, 2017

If you’re like most parents (including us!), you always worry a little when you’re separated from your children. For many of us, letting go of our child’s hand and watching him or her board a school bus for the first time is a moment you remember.

Why do we feel this separation anxiety, particularly with school buses? Perhaps our fears are rooted in long-ago tragedies: one happened in Kentucky in 1958, when a school bus carrying 48 students plunged into the frigid waters of the Big Sandy River. Twenty-two children made it safely to the river’s bank, while the driver and 26 others did not. Three decades later, 27 lives were lost in a school bus accident in Carroll County, Kentucky. And another school bus accident claimed more than 27 young lives in Martinez, California, in 1976.

It doesn’t matter that these disasters happened in other states a long time ago. We know that bus crashes can and do happen in Virginia. While most students who board school buses come home safely, even hearing about one accident haunts us.

What’s the reality about school bus safety?

School-bus-related accidents have caused 1,450 fatalities since 1990, an average of 132 deaths per year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). While these numbers are disturbing, and the loss of any life is tragic, these statistics suggest that school buses are one of the safest forms of transportation in the United States—particularly when compared with overall traffic accident deaths.

Every year in America, approximately 440,000 school buses carry 23.5 million children more than 4.3 billion miles to and from school and related activities. When we consider how much time children spend on school buses, 132 deaths per year is fairly low. NHTSA statistics also tell us that, out of the approximate 407,000 fatal traffic accidents in the United States since 1990, only 1,313 involved school buses.

But looking at these statistics is not likely to calm a parent’s fears, because the death of even one child is one too many.

What to do? Technology to the rescue?

While parents can’t ride the bus with their children every day, new apps can offer the next best thing. Some apps allow parents to monitor their child’s ride from the bus stop to school and back again.

These apps track a child’s progress by GPS in real time, and also give parents estimated arrival times. This can help prevent a child being left alone at a bus stop, and it can help parents avoid time waiting for a late bus. Bus-tracking apps can also help a parent’s peace of mind.

But so far, Stafford County is the only county in Virginia to offer this app. We hope these apps will come to Eastern Virginia soon!

Q: So what’s the real issue with bus safety? A: Other drivers.

So if school buses are generally safe, what’s the issue? It’s what happens when children get off the bus.

Most school-bus-related accidents occur when children get off a bus and are struck by a passing vehicle or the bus itself. Because of this, the NHTSA has declared the 10-foot area around a bus the “Danger Zone.”

Teach your children to stay outside the danger zone, and never walk behind a bus.

What has Virginia done to make our children safer?

Virginia law now requires that all vehicles approaching a school bus from either direction stop when the bus’s signals are flashing, its stop sign is extended, or children are loading or unloading.

Drivers must remain stopped until all children are clear of the roadway, the bus’s lights have stopped flashing, its stop sign has been retracted, and the bus has started to move again.

The only time a vehicle traveling in the opposite direction doesn’t have to stop is when it is separated by a physical barrier or an unpaved median.

Failure to stop for a school bus that’s loading or unloading is a serious traffic offense. A conviction for this offense is a 6-point violation, which will stay on a driver’s record for 11 years.

What can we as parents do?

Parents can do a lot for children’s safety by educating them about behavior around a bus.

Beyond teaching kids to avoid the Danger Zone and never cross behind a bus, teach your children to walk away from the front of the bus and not cross in front of it until they can make eye contact with the bus driver.

A Virginia Beach couple has become proactive about school bus safety in their neighborhood. After becoming tired of drivers passing stopped school buses, these parents began videoing cars violating the stopping law with their phones, and then posting the videos on Facebook. Smart!

As parents ourselves, we at GibsonSingleton Virginia Injury Attorneys never want your children to be victims of a wreck. We want your children to grow up safely, just as we want for our own.

That’s why we urge you to take every step possible to ensure your child’s safety. When it’s available, let’s all get a bus-tracking app. Teach your children how to walk around a bus, and remind them often. Write down or take photos of the license plates of offending drivers, and report them to police. These actions can save young lives!

If you have any questions about school bus safety and your legal rights as a parent, call our Eastern Virginia office today at (804) 413-6777 for a free consultation with a Virginia bus accident lawyer.

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Prevention, empathy, and diligence are hallmarks of everything we do at GibsonSingleton Virginia Injury Attorneys. Our community can see these ideals lived out in our work to prevent personal injuries from happening.

  • Safety Education
    GibsonSingleton launches a “Texts=Wrecks” campaign to reduce the number of people injured or killed by distracted drivers.
  • Annual Coat Drive
    During the fall, our team works to distribute coats to people in need in our community.
  • Hands-on Service
    John and Ken join the Gloucester Point Rotary Club in cleaning up the community.
  • Supporting Local Schools
    The Gibson family participates in Gloucester’s Botetourt Elementary Shuffle fundraiser.