School buses return to the roads, are you ready?

Posted 9/1/21

By Bruce Karnick [email protected] The return of the school year also means the return of school buses and students to our roadways. That means drivers need to pay extra attention to driving, …

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School buses return to the roads, are you ready?


By Bruce Karnick

[email protected]

The return of the school year also means the return of school buses and students to our roadways. That means drivers need to pay extra attention to driving, especially around bus stops and during the times kids will be going too or leaving the bus stops.

According to the MN Department of Public Safety, from 2015-2019, an average of 1,152 citations were issued to drivers for breaking school bus traffic laws. Each year, bus drivers across the state of Minnesota participate in a school bus stop-arm survey. Those surveys revealed that roughly 26% of drivers ignore the stop-arm of buses. That is downright scary, here is why. Each day, school buses make at least 10,000 trips just in MN. Of those 10,000 trips, 2,600 drivers just ignore the stop arm. That is 2,600 times a day a child or group of children could be hit. Thankfully, our bus drivers are well trained, and they do their jobs well, which limits accidents. So well trained, that in 2019, there was only one fatality involving a school bus. One is too many for sure, but with about 185 days of school and 2,600 people breaking the stop-arm law per day, one out of 481,000 times the law was broken is statistically impressive.

School buses are still the safest mode of transportation to and from school, yes, even with the threat of COVID. With 2019 being the most recent data, there were 3,220 traffic crashes in approximately 1,850,000 trips for the school year. That equates to .174 percent accident rate. With school buses being big and heavy, they can handle a fairly rough impact with no issues.

School buses are designed to take front and rear collisions, the most common type of accident, and absorb them. The passenger box is meant to slide on the frame in a severe front or rear impact. The sliding slows the passengers down gradually. The passenger compartment has the big fluffy seats that also absorb the kids impacts. That is why there are no seatbelts for the passengers. The seats are meant for kids to fly into them and hit flat to absorb their energy. Seatbelts on school buses would cause more damage than good.

For side impacts, the design of the buses is to have the passengers move up while a passenger vehicle would be pushed under the bus, limiting impact to the passengers on the bus. Buses are also built to have a lower center of gravity, so they roll over less.

What are the laws in MN for other traffic to follow when near a school bus?

Number one is Stop for School Buses: It’s the Law!

State law requires all vehicles to stop for school buses when the bus driver activates the flashing lights and has the crossing arm fully extended. This means do not race to beat the yellow lights, just stop and watch for kids. Especially during the loading hours in the morning. Kids running to catch a late bus are the highest risk of getting hit.

Drivers who violate the law face a $500 fine. Drivers can face criminal charges for passing a school bus on the right, passing when a child is outside the bus, or injuring or killing a child.

Motorists must stop at least 20 feet from a school bus that is displaying red flashing lights or a stop arm when approaching from the rear and from the opposite direction on undivided roads. Divided roads are safe to continue if you are on the road not occupied by the bus, but please slow down and pay attention.

Motorists should slow down, pay attention, and anticipate school children and buses, especially in neighborhoods and school zones.

The best way to be aware of your surroundings at all times is to put the distractions away.

Students need to do their part too.

When getting off a bus, look to be sure no cars are passing on the shoulder before you step off the bus.

Wait for the bus driver to signal that it’s safe to cross.

When crossing the street to get on the bus or to go home, make eye contact with motorists before proceeding.

This year, due to federal mandate, any student riding the bus is required to wear a mask with the normal exclusions for medical and sincerely held religious beliefs.

Interested in driving school bus? Give your local school bus company a call, odds are, they are hiring. They likely need bus aides as well as smaller vehicle drivers that don’t require a Class B CDL.