THE SCHOOL BUS IS HERE!
Over the next couple of weeks, Michigan motorists will see 15,000 more vehicles in their neighborhoods and on their streets and highways. These will not be new electric vehicles or autonomous automobiles. They will be the traditional black and yellow school bus. These school buses will be transporting 690,000 children to schools all over Michigan from their homes in the morning and back in the afternoon. This routine will take place every day for the next 180 school days.
The biggest risk to schoolchildren is not riding in a school bus but as pedestrians walking to, boarding, and walking from their school buses. A 2006 Michigan State Police study found that one in 8 car-school bus crashes happened at school bus stops while children were boarding or exiting a school bus. A 2016 survey taken by the National Directors of State Pupil Transportation indicated Michigan motorists illegally pass stopped school buses 1,031 times per day. That is 185,580 illegal pass-bys of Michigan school buses every year. Motorists need to pay special attention to schoolchildren as pedestrians as they approach or leave a stopped school bus.
Michigan’s 20,000 school bus drivers have a tremendous responsibility. They must manage approaching traffic at a school bus stop. And, at the same time, they keep track of children getting on or off their school buses. This takes a complex set of skills. Schoolchildren do not always make appropriate or logical decisions as pedestrians. School bus drivers are trained to anticipate their actions.
School bus drivers have signaling devices to warn approaching motorists the bus is about to stop and require motorists to stop while they load or unload schoolchildren. Michigan has employed an overhead 8-light system on all school buses since 1990. There are two flashing amber lights and two flashing red lights mounted high on the front and back of all school buses. MICHIGAN LAW REQUIRES ALL BUS DRIVERS TO ACTIVATE THE OVERHEAD-FLASHING-AMBER-LIGHTS AT LEAST 200 FEET BEFORE A SCHOOL BUS STOP. When the bus driver opens the bus door to allow children to enter or exit the bus, the OVERHEAD-FLASHING-RED-LIGHTS automatically activate. THE OVERHEAD-FLASHING-RED-LIGHTS REQUIRE APPROACHING MOTORISTS TO STOP. MICHIGAN LAW REQUIRES MOTORISTS TO REMAIN STOPPED UNTIL THE SCHOOL BUS DRIVER CANCELS THE OVERHEAD-FLASHING-RED-LIGHTS.
Sometimes schoolchildren do not have to cross the roadway to get to or from the school bus. In those situations, the school bus driver may use a different set of signal lights to communicate to approaching motorists. The bus driver will ACTIVATE the HAZARD WARNING LIGHTS. Motorists often refer to these flashing lights as “emergency flashers.” They are located halfway between a school bus’s bumper and roof. A bus driver can only use this option when CHILDREN DO NOT CROSS THE ROAD AND THERE IS A SAFE AND LEGAL SPACE FOR APPROACHING MOTORISTS TO GO AROUND THE SCHOOL BUS. It is important for motorists to APPROACH the school bus with EXTREME CAUTION AND ALWAYS BE PREPARED TO STOP.
Motorists approaching a school bus often are confused, frustrated, and unaccustomed with school bus operation. Quite often, the frustration, especially in the morning, is that the school bus makes frequent stops and “will slow me up or make me late.” The confusion starts with “oh my God what do I do around a school bus?” Motorists involved in car-school bus crashes often say:
“I did not see the school bus.”
“I did not know I was supposed to stop.”
“I do not know what those flashing lights mean.”
School buses stop more frequently than motorists expect. Many school bus stop locations are unknown to motorists. Michigan law requires school buses to stop at all railroad crossings even if the gates are up or no train is approaching. Everyday school bus operations appear unusual to most motorists. The addition of 15,000 school buses only adds to an already stressful time driving on our streets and highways.
Protecting those 690,000 schoolchildren riding school buses to and from school requires a TEAM EFFORT – schoolchildren (parents), school bus drivers, and motorists.
Schoolchildren must arrive at the bus stop at least 5 minutes before pick-up time. Children never cross the street to get to or from a school bus until the bus driver has stopped, approaching motorists have stopped, and it is safe to do so. Parents, dress your children in bright colors or retroreflective fabric clothing. This will help school bus drivers and approaching motorists see them. School bus drivers provide motorists with as much advanced warning of their intent to stop and load or unload children. Also, bus drivers give plenty of advanced warning to approaching motorists of their intent to stop at all railroad crossings. Motorists, be more alert during the school year. Put your cellphones in the glove compartment. Pay attention to the distance between your vehicle and a school bus ahead. If you are catching up to the bus, it is probably getting ready to stop. Watch for the bus driver’s signal. If the overhead-flashing-amber-lights come on, the bus will stop in at least 200 feet to load or unload children. When the overhead-flashing-red-lights come on – STOP! Children may cross the road! DO NOT PASS THE SCHOOL BUS UNTIL THE OVERHEAD-FLASHING-RED-LIGHTS TURN OFF. If you see hazard lights flashing, reduce speed and be prepared to stop. You may pass the stopped school bus; however, do so with caution! If we all work together, we will keep our children safe and have an enjoyable school year.
Mac Dashney is the Executive Director of the Michigan Association for Pupil Transportation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org