‘Avoid harm, obey the stop arm’

National School Bus Safety Week

Each day starting around 6:18 a.m., 101 school bus drivers begin traveling their 5732-mile drive throughout Blount County, picking up and dropping off around 4969 students to and from school. Whenever you see a school bus, be aware children are somewhere nearby, either waiting to board or getting off the school bus.

The dedication of these drivers to ensure the safety of all students has led to National School Bus Safety Week, which is celebrated Oct. 19 – Oct. 23. This year’s theme is “Avoid Harm, Obey the Stop Arm.”

Although school bus transportation is the safest form of ground transportation available – and eight times safer than traveling to school in a family vehicle – accidents still happen.

“School buses are the safest way for students to get to and from school. When accidents occur it is while students are loading and unloading the school bus,” said Joe Lightsey, director of pupil transportation at the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE).

“Parents need to ensure that students understand the importance of obeying the rules for getting on and off buses. And motorists need to obey the warning lights and stop for school buses. School Bus Safety Week is an opportunity for everyone to work together as a community to ensure the safety of our children,” Lightsey states.

School bus safety in Alabama is much better than the national average. According to Lightsey, more than 7600 buses provide daily transportation for more than 380,000 school children throughout the state. “These buses travel an estimated 452,000 miles (per day). School busrelated fatalities are almost non-existent in Alabama. For example, since 1969, only one student riding (inside) an Alabama school bus has been killed in a collision. Even one death is too many, however, and that is why educating children, parents, teachers, and school bus drivers is of utmost importance to the Alabama State Department of Education,” continues Lightsey.

The key is educating the public as well as the children, parents, drivers, and other school personnel. More tips can be found on their website at www.alsde.edu.

The department offers the following tips for school bus riders:

•Be at the bus stop five minutes before the scheduled arrival time of the bus.

•Use sidewalks and crosswalks when available. If sidewalks are not available, walk on the left side of the street.

•Do not run to or from the bus stop.

•Check traffic carefully before crossing the street and use crosswalks when available.

•Be alert for vehicles in driveways and parking lots.

•Line up away from the street with the first person no closer than six feet from the roadside.

•Refrain from horseplay while waiting on the bus.

•Do not move toward the bus until the driver has given you permission.

In addition, school bus drivers are trained to see the students from different viewing angles and to keep track of the number of students at each stop. Questions concerning school bus safety week may be directed to Joe Lightsey, director of pupil transportation at the Alabama State Department of Education, at (334) 242-9730 at joel@alsde.edu.

What motorists should do

•Be aware it is illegal in every state to pass a school bus stopped to load/ unload students.

•Know and understand laws governing motorist’s driving behavior near a school bus.

•Learn the “flashing signal light system” that school bus drivers use to alert motorists if they are going to stop to load/unload students.

Yellow flashing lights indicate the bus is preparing to stop to load or unload children.

Motorists should slow down and prepare to stop their vehicles.

Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate that the bus has stopped, and that children are getting on or off. Motorists MUST stop their cars.

•Begin moving only when the red flashing lights are turned off, the stop arm is withdrawn, and the bus begins to move.

•Watch out for young people who may be thinking about getting to school, but may not be thinking about getting there safely.

•Slow down. Watch for children walking in the street, especially if there are no sidewalks in the neighborhood. Watch for children playing and gathering near bus stops.

•Be alert. Children arriving late for the bus may dart into the street without looking for traffic.