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School Bus Safety: Be Prepared, Not Scared

School Bus Safety: Be Prepared, Not Scared

It's that time of year again, when our kids start making their way from home to school. For those of you who are putting a child on a school bus for the very first time, I know first-hand that it can be a nerve-wracking experience. My wife and I recently put our young son on one of those big yellow buses for the very first time.

We had many questions —will he be nervous when it sinks in that we’re not getting on the bus too, will he make new friends, will he like kindergarten, and will he get a great education? Most of all, there was that feeling of powerless when he eagerly stepped aboard and waved goodbye from his seat for the very first time.

But, as a concerned dad and Acting Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, I had checked the numbers. School buses are the safest way to get to school, even safer than in the family car. And when you are sending your little one off for a first solo adventure, I hope that fact will bring you comfort.

Photo of kids getting aboard school bus

When it comes to school buses, the real safety challenge is not riding the bus, but approaching or leaving the bus; that’s actually when the risk for injury is greatest.

So, if your children ride the school bus, please walk with them to the bus stop and wait with them until they get on the school bus. And to make the school bus trip even safer, prepare kids for getting on and off the bus by sharing these keys for school bus safety:

  • Be especially careful around the school bus “danger zone,” which is the 10 feet in front, behind, and on each side of the bus.
  • Wait until the driver says it is safe to board. Then get on one at a time.
  • Once on the school bus, go directly to your seat and sit down facing forward. Remain in your seat facing forward when the school bus is moving.
  • To cross the street once you’re off the school bus, walk five giant steps from the front of the bus, cross in front of the bus when the driver indicates it is safe, stop at the edge of the bus – look left-right-left again for traffic, and if there’s no traffic, cross the street.
  • Ask the driver for help if you drop something while getting on or off the school bus.
  • Keep your loose items inside your backpack or book bag.
  • Be respectful of the school bus driver, and always obey his or her instructions.

Graphic depicting how to safely walk near a school bus

Of course, adults who aren't sending little ones off to school also have a role to play when it comes to keeping kids safe.

When driving in neighborhoods and school zones we all need to:

  • Watch out for young people who may be distracted and not thinking about safety.
  • Slow down. Watch for children playing and congregating near school bus stops.
  • Be alert. Children arriving late for the school bus may dart into the street without looking for traffic.

Summer’s end is tough enough for a lot of kids. Family trips and lazy days give way to teachers, books, and homework. When they head off --whether eagerly or reluctantly!-- for their first day of school this year, let’s do everything we can to make sure they get there safely. Sign them up for the bus if one is available; empower kids with our school bus safety tips; and share these tips with your neighbors.

And don't forget to check our School Bus page at SaferCar.gov's Parents Central for these and other tips to help keep our kids as safe as possible in this new school year.

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