Preventing school bus danger zone fatalities

12/18/2013  |  Jeffrey Cassel

Over the past eight years there have been 92 child fatalities in the danger zones around a school bus — an average of almost 12 each year. As we study the causes of each and every one of these accidents we learn that many factors contributed to these tragedies. The leading causes of the 92 tragedies were:

  • Killed by passing vehicle — 37 fatalities
  • Being in front of the bus — 24 fatalities
  • Staying too close to the side of the bus — 12 fatalities
  • Running after the bus — 10 fatalities

There are many actions we can take to prevent these terrible accidents. These actions can be grouped as follows:

Passing Vehicles

The first objective is to minimize crossovers. If the student does not have to cross the street for any reason, they will not be hit by a passing vehicle. However, this is not always possible. If the students have to cross the street, it is important they be correctly instructed how to do this. The student should only cross when the driver indicates it is safe but the student should still check for himself. He should stop at the end of the bumper and look left and right before crossing.

As we studied the 37 child fatalities from passing vehicles, we asked “Why would anyone ever drive past a stopped school bus with the lights flashing and the stop sign out?” We learned the following:

  1. The main reason is ignorance. Many people do not know the law, especially older people who learned to drive more than 50 years ago.
  2. The second reason is being distracted.
  3. The least likely cause is a deliberate action. Very few people would ever see a stopped school bus, know the law, know kids may be around and still drive past the bus.

Consequently, we think another important part of the solution is to educate the public on the law and challenge them to pay far more attention when they see a school bus — do not be distracted.

Being in Front of the Bus

I believe every school bus should have a crossing gate to keep the students away from the front of the bus. A total of 26 states have already made crossing gates mandatory. I was the Vice President Corporate Risk Manager for the Laidlaw Group for almost 21 years. Over this period, we grew from a fleet of 15,000 school buses to 38,000 school buses. In the first 10 years, without crossing gates, we had 15 child fatalities at the front of the bus. In the next 10 years, with crossing gates, we had one front of the bus child fatality.

Fifteen to one, with a larger fleet, very clearly shows the effectiveness of crossing gates.

Additional action is teaching the students never to get close to the front of the bus. They should always be at least 10 feet ahead of the bus so the driver can see them.

The school bus drivers are taught to count the students away. If five students exit the bus and you know where all five are before you pull away, none can be at the front of the bus. Checking the crossover mirrors are the other action to make sure the front of the bus is clear.

Staying Too Close to the Side of the Bus

The students should be taught to never get close to the side of the bus. They are instructed to take at least six steps directly away from the bus.

Again, drivers should count the students away and check their mirrors before pulling away.

Running After the Bus

This should never be allowed. Students should be instructed never to run after the bus and never to bang on the side of the bus. If the driver sees them running after the bus, they will stop, but will not allow the student to board, they will be sent home. If there is no benefit to running after the bus, students will not do it. If they cannot be sent home, they should be taken to the principal’s office as this is a very dangerous practice.

All the above actions can be considered in five areas:

  1. Train the drivers.
  2. Train the students — It is imperative that we teach the students the safe practices in and around the school bus.
  3. Involve the parents — There should be some communication between the school and the parents to ensure each knows the safe school bus practices.
  4. Educate the public
  5. Use crossing gates

This leads to the question: Whose responsibility is it to teach the students safety in and around a school bus?

As a superintendent or principal — what is your role? We must make sure all the students are trained in the safe practices in and around the bus.

Whose responsibility is it to teach the kids how to be safe in and around a school bus?

  • Is it the parents?
  • Is it the bus driver?
  • Is it the Transportation Department?
  • Is it the school?

The answer is all of these. However, if multiple people are responsible, it often means no one is and no one takes any actions.

To recap:

  1. Make sure the drivers are fully trained.
  2. Make sure the students are trained in safe practices.
  3. Involve the parents by sending home a note on the safe practices.
  4. Educate the public in not passing stopped school buses.
  5. Have crossing gates on all your buses.

If we all follow these practices, we will reduce these terrible tragedies from 12 to zero.

As a superintendent or principle, you should make sure these safe practices are taking place in your district.

Jeffrey Cassel is the president of School Bus Safety Company.
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