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 were student passengers.”
With this as pretext, the Arkansas Department of Education is launching Flashing Red, Kids Ahead, a three-week campaign to raise awareness about school bus safety as students return to school after the summer break.
“Our schools are set to begin the new school year in just a few days. This effort reminds motorists that they play an important role in keeping our students safe,” state Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell said in a news release.
According to an Arkansas News Bureau report, nearly 7,000 school buses transport more than 250,000 students to and from school and school-related activities each school day in Arkansas. That represents thousands of vulnerable moments when an inattentive motorist could cause a life-ending and family-shattering crash.
Collateral to its awareness campaign, the Department of Education also reminds us that the penalties for illegally passing a stopped school bus were increased by Act 2128 of 2005, also known as Isaac’s Law. The legislation was named for Isaac Brian, an elementary school student in the Bryant School District who was struck and killed when a driver illegally passed his school bus while it was unloading students.
Generally speaking this time of year presents a great opportunity to practice 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 a study released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 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 further 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 6 years old or 60 pounds must be properly fastened in an approved safety seat… Children under age 6 and under 60 pounds must be secured in a federally approved car seat or booster.”
With all the pitfalls and perils the big bad world poses to today’s kids, simply getting to and from school shouldn’t be one of them. We owe them that much. When nearing bus stops or school zones, we should all hang up, look up, listen and slow down. Our kids are depending on us.