New school BUS program announced

With the waning days of summer comes the clatter of children returning to school. For many students the journey to the halls of academe is made via school bus. The increased presence of school buses on our streets reminds us to slow down and be more watchful anywhere students and roadways come together.

In its report, School Transportation-Related Crashes, the National Highway Transportation Safety Board states, “An average of 19 school-age children die in school transportation-related crashes each year — five occupants of school transportation vehicles and 14 pedestrians.”

The trade publication, School Transportation News, reports similarly grim statistics, “Overall, 1,368 people were killed in school-transportation crashes, 72 percent of which were occupants of other non-school bus vehicles involved, for an average of 137 fatalities per year from 2001 through 2010. More than 7 percent of the fatalities were school bus occupants. Of the total 102 school bus occupant fatalities, 62 student passengers.”

For the start of the 2014 school year, the Arkansas Department of Education has announced a new bus safety program. According to an ADE press release, B.U.S. (Be aware. U stay alert. So kids don’t get hurt) Awareness is the theme for this year’s school bus safety awareness effort. The campaign is sponsored by the Arkansas Department of Education in conjunction with the Arkansas Association of Pupil Transportation and concerned parents, educators and citizens across the state. The purpose of this joint effort is to remind motorists to obey all traffic laws whenever they are near a school bus. The campaign will also seek to remind motorists that it is illegal to pass a stopped school bus whenever its red lights are flashing and students are getting on or off the bus.

Of this issue ADE Commissioner Tony Wood said, “Most of our public school students will be returning to the classroom Aug. 18, which means the yellow school buses will be returning to our streets and highways. We want to remind motorists to be especially attentive whenever they are near a school bus. We must all work together to keep Arkansas students safe.”

As we have admonished in previous years, the start of the school year presents a great opportunity not just for bus-related safety but to practice many safer driving habits. No one should ever text and drive. Even talking on a cell phone, smoking, eating or simple acts of inattention can plant the seeds of tragedy. When one is behind the wheel, there’s only one thing that should be done: driving.

According to NHTSA and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involve some form of driver distraction that reduces driving safety.

To this point, the Arkansas Department of Motor Vehicles reminds us, “Cell phone use is banned for all drivers under 18. Drivers 18 and older, but younger than 21, are banned from using hand-held cell phones while operating in school and highway work zones.”

Along with this, everyone in the vehicle should be wearing a seatbelt. To this point the DMV states, “All front-seat occupants over the age of 14 must wear a seat belt. Anyone under 15 must wear an appropriate safety restraint, while children under six years old or 60 pounds must be properly fastened in an approved safety seat … Children under age six and under 60 pounds must be secured in a federally approved car seat or booster.”

We want our kids to be happy and succeed in school. Ensuring their safe passage to and from school is a necessary first step.