While the school bus industry is adept at tracking data, we’ll never know the number of accidents that were prevented as a result of lessons learned during National School Bus Safety Week. Perhaps some children will recall a tip from Buster the School Bus or be extra alert because of this year’s safety week theme, “I see the driver. The driver sees me.”
Or maybe a motorist will spot a state trooper aboard a school bus and remember to brake for a stopped bus. This week thousands of school districts kicked off School Bus Safety Week, which runs from Oct. 22 to 26, though others started celebrating last week.
The national event is scheduled each fall to coincide with the shorter days and start of Daylight Savings, when more students are walking to bus stops in the dark. In the United States, approximately 22.5 million K-12 students ride yellow buses each day.
The 2012 National SBSW Poster Contest theme is “Stand Back from the Yellow and Black.” Individual states hold their own safety poster competitions and then the winner of the national poster contest, sponsored by NAPT, was announced at the NAPT Summit in Memphis, Tenn. That honor went to Cesar Davila, an eighth grader at Manzano Middle School in Brownsville, Texas.
The association recently announced its 2013 Poster Concert theme: “At my Stop — You Stop!” Next year’s theme spotlights the need for all drivers to watch out for children around the school bus during loading and unloading. Since school resumed in August, seven students have been struck and killed by passing motorists or their own bus while walking to a bus stop or waiting there.
While these tragedies often spur stricter school bus stopping laws, many states continue to see a high number of violations. NASDPTS’ latest School Bus Illegal Passing Driver Survey actually reported an increase in illegal passing incidents in the 28 participating states.
This is why some states are teaming up with law enforcement during safety week to raise awareness about the dangers of illegally passing school buses. Ohio Highway Patrol troopers are stepping up enforcement of the law in and around school zones and following buses on their daily routes.
In West Virginia, law enforcement officers are riding along on afternoon bus routes to raise awareness, promote safety and catch illegal school bus passers in the act. On Oct. 19, a driver who failed to stop for a school bus with an extended stop arm and flashing lights struck and injured a Summersville Elementary student.
“School bus transportation is the safest way to get children to school each day,” said state schools Superintendent Jorea Marple. “Yet, when motorists fail to obey the law, they endanger the lives of our children, our drivers and themselves. We must do everything we can to make sure our children are safe.”
Reminders for Young Riders
Across the nation, school districts are doing their part by educating students on proper safety protocol in and around the yellow bus. Some rely on their bus drivers or school principals to issue bus safety reminders, while others call on Buster the School Bus, a robotic miniature school bus that rolls around talking to students about onboard and bus-stop safety.
Transportation Director Terry Graham of Jones County (Miss.) School District told School Transportation News that Buster covered every aspect of bus safety with elementary students as part of SBSW. Graham booked Buster the School Bus after watching his safety demonstration at the Southeastern School Bus Conference earlier this year. This week he was especially moved when the schoolchildren took a solemn pledge and promised Buster they would abide by his bus safety rules, sit quietly on the bus and never cross a road without direction from the driver.
“It’s just a fun way for kids to relate to bus safety,” said Graham. “Our kids are real receptive to Buster and want to remember what he says. They want to please him.”
He noted the district has experienced problems with students in the danger zone, particularly in cul-de-sacs where tardy children often chase the bus they just missed. Another issue Graham considers vital is raising the awareness of teen drivers who may not know the school bus stopping laws.
“Nathan’s Law has put questions about school bus safety on the driving test. Teen drivers don’t really think about the safety aspect of driving near school buses,” he continued. “I think this is going to make our bus trips a lot safer.”
Transportation Director Kathleen Bevilacaqua of the West Scranton (Pa.) School District told STN she plans to discuss proper behavior aboard the school bus and to review emergency evacuation procedures. This year she commemorated School Bus Safety Week with a new color-coded bracelet program designed to help student riders easily find their school bus. In this growing district, she said, one brand-new school has nine school buses alone.
“The rubber bracelets have magnets on them to match the color of their bus. This way they wear the bracelet and they can identify which bus is theirs by the color. And bus drivers will immediately know if the bracelets don’t match it,” she continued. “Our demographics have changed drastically, and we now have a high Asian population who couldn’t differentiate between the [bus] numbers.”
Bevilacaqua agreed the SBSW poster contest is a great way to drive home the safety week theme and said it was exciting last year when some West Scranton students won top honors at the state level.
In Texas, students participate in a school bus safety speech contest as well as the poster contest. This year’s speech contest winner is Aubrey Lawrence from the aptly named Rising Star High School in the city of that name. Now a senior, Lawrence was a junior when he submitted the speech that won the state competition sponsored by the Texas Association for Pupil Transportation.
“I’m so glad to see that he won. He’s one of the kids that his peers look up to … and just a loving kid, the kind to give out hugs and thank us for the opportunity,” said TAPT Executive Secretary Pam McCurdy. “He has a lot of support from his district and his parents, and I believe he plans to become a school administrator. Hopefully, the ($1,000) scholarship will help toward his college career as well.”
Lawrence’s speech on bullying, which focused on understanding victims and why they are targeted, received a standing ovation Sunday at the NAPT awards banquet held during the organization’s conference in Memphis, Tenn.
In Monroe, La., Jefferson Elementary students learned about bullying during a workshop on school bus safety, and they were sent home with prizes plus books on safety and bullying prevention.
Bus driver James McNeal told the local CBS station bullying on school buses is a real problem. “I hope they learn that bullying is not a good thing to do because people get hurt. You need to tell someone when you are being bullied, tell your teacher, tell your mama [or] tell the principal,” said McNeal. "The bus drivers can't see everything, and there are not a lot of monitors on the buses.”
David Harman, executive director of support services at Portage Township (Ind.) Schools, noted that School Bus Safety Week is also a time to express appreciation to bus drivers. On the district website, Harman highlighted the difficulty of doing this job — and doing it well.
“They must safely navigate a 38-foot vehicle through congested neighborhoods, effectively manage up to 72 students on their bus, account for every student that boards and/or exits their bus, comprehend and execute a myriad of safety checks before, during and after each route, know who needs to exit their bus early to eat breakfast and they must maintain a seating chart with assigned seats,” stated Harman. “Few other school employees are asked to do so much.”
In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback proclaimed Oct. 17 to be School Bus Drivers’ Appreciation Day and Oct. 22–26, School Bus Drivers’ Appreciation Week. He urged district employees, parents and students to recognize their bus drivers for the safe, professional transportation they provide daily.
“School buses are statistically the safest form of surface transportation available today. It’s been that way and, thanks to the nearly 6,000 school transportation professionals in Kansas, it will continue,” the governor stated.
“Take a few minutes to thank your school bus driver for the wonderful job he or she is doing.”