By he HELP Committee and Havre Public Schools for Havre Daily News
This week is National School Bus Safety Week. The National Association for Pupil Transportation picks a theme each year, encourages poster and essay contests, and promotes safety practices to help ensure safe passage for children to and from school.
As autumn turns toward winter, we know the days are growing shorter. When we change our clocks from daylight-saving time back to standard time in the fall, it will be dark even earlier. But what we may not realize is that this also means that more children will be traveling to and from school in the dark, which puts them at greater risk of injuries from traffic crashes. Over half of all fatal pedestrian crashes and over one-fourth of fatal bicycle crashes involving school-age children - ages 5 through 18 - occur in low light or dark conditions.
Young children can be at special risk. For one thing, they have less experience with traffic. They are more likely to be struck because they hurry to get on and off the bus. They act before they think. Young children assume motorists will see them and they are sure motorists will wait for them to cross the street. The younger children don't always stay within the bus driver's sight.
Maxine Mougeot, pupil transportation director in the Montana Office of Public Instruction, reported that in the 2003-2004 school year, 55,275 Montana students were transported by school bus at public expense. Montana school buses travel about 18.2 million miles per year. "Montana bus drivers do a wonderful job of keeping our kids safe," Mougeot said. "We should all be proud of our record for safety and we should always remember to thank the drivers for the amazing job that they do. There are 2,121 school bus routes driven by 3,126 certified and well trained regular and substitute bus drivers. The average route mileage is about 52 miles per day. There are only about 30 to 40 reported accidents each year and they usually occur when someone runs into a bus."
Mougeot added, "The most serious problem we have in Montana is when the motoring public does not see the flashing red lights of a school bus that is stopped to load or unload kids. We require our bus drivers to recognize when an incident is about to happen. We ask them to not allow kids to move off the bus in these situations. If the bus driver gets the plate number, we can fine the motorist. It is a huge problem that regularly puts our kids at risk."
There are many things you can do to help your kids - or the kids in your neighborhood - get to school each morning and reach home safely at the end of the day. First, you can help them learn and practice this important safety rule: Be seen to be safe. Let kids know that during the day and at dawn and dusk, they should wear bright or fluorescent clothing. These colors - day-glow green, hot pink or construction worker orange - amplify light and help the wearer stand out in a crowd. However, at night, these colors appear to be black, so kids should carry a flashlight and/or wear retro-reflective gear that reflects light back to its source so motorists can see them. A motorist will quickly detect a child walking with a lit flashlight, or riding on a bike with an attached headlight and flashing taillight. And when combined with retro-reflective gear or strips or retro-reflective tape on their jacket, shoes, cap, helmet or backpack, a child's odds of being seen are even more greatly improved. The sooner motorists are alerted to something - like a child - moving up ahead, the sooner they can react.
Second, you can help kids remember the "stop, look left, right, left and listen" before stepping off the curb, even where there is a traffic signal. Accompany your children when they walk to and from school as often as possible.
Third, you can remind kids to avoid jaywalking and crossing from between parked vehicles. Crosswalks are safer and more visible, especially after dark.
Motorists can also help by paying special attention to safe- driving rules in low-light conditions. First, and most important, you must be alert if you are on the road after dark. Watch carefully for children who may be walking or riding their bikes. Always drive at a safe speed, especially on unlit or winding roads or when using low beams. Never pass a stopped school bus with its stop arm extended and red lights flashing.
To help increase your ability to see at night, be sure to take off your sunglasses at dusk. Wipe off your headlights regularly, and keep your windshield clean, both inside and out. Adjust the rearview mirror to the night setting to avoid headlight glare. If you need to use your high beams on an unlit road, be sure to turn them off when another car approaches.
Things kids should know about school bus safety:
The bus driver and others cannot see you if you are standing closer than 10 feet to the bus. Stay out of the danger zone!
If something falls under or near the bus, tell the driver. Never try to pick it up yourself!
While waiting for the bus, stay in a safe place away from the street.
When you get on or off the bus, look for the bus safety lights and make sure they are flashing.
Be alert to traffic. When you get on or off the bus, look left, right, left before you enter or cross the street.
When the driver says it is safe to cross the street, remember to cross in front of the bus.
Stay in your seat and sit quietly so that the driver is not distracted.
Some school buses now have seat belts. If you have seat belts on your school bus, be sure to learn to use the seat belt correctly.
Things parents should know about school bus safety:
School buses are the safest form of highway transportation.
The most dangerous part of the school bus ride is getting on and off the bus.
Pedestrian fatalities while loading and unloading school buses account for about three times more school bus-related fatalities than school bus occupant fatalities.
The loading and unloading area is called the "danger zone."
The "danger zone" is the area on all sides of the bus where children are in the most danger of not being seen by the driver - 10 feet in front of the bus where the driver may be too high to see a child, 10 feet on either side of the bus where a child may be in the driver's blind spot, and the area behind the bus.
Half of the pedestrian fatalities in school bus-related crashes are children between 5 and 7 years old.
For more information about school bus safety, child safety restraints and the new law, booster seats, and safety belt use, contact HELP Committee at 265-6206.