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Be careful around buses: A child’s life depends on it

The following guest column is by Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs.

As summer winds down, children across Erie County are heading back to school and the yellow school buses will once again dot our highways. For some 138,000 elementary and secondary students in Erie County, the school day begins and ends with a trip on a school bus. Many children will be going to school for the first time and may not be careful when crossing the street or running to catch the bus. Older children know the routine, but may forget, in their excitement to catch up with friends.

Unfortunately, each year, some bus trips to school end in tragedy – children are injured or killed in school bus incidents, when motorists fail to follow the rules of the road. An easily preventable statistic is that more children are hurt outside the bus than inside, by motorists illegally passing a stopped school bus. Although drivers are required to stop for a school bus, when it is stopped to load or unload passengers, children should not rely on them to do so, a fact that parents should discuss with their children.

The rules of the road in New York state are specific, when it comes to school buses. Drivers need to know and obey the flashing signal light system that school bus drivers use to alert motorists of pending actions. Yellow flashing lights indicate that the bus is preparing to stop to load or unload children. That is the time to slow down and prepare to stop your vehicle.

Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate that the bus has stopped, and that children are getting on or off. Motorists must stop their cars and wait until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop sign is withdrawn and the bus begins moving, before they can start driving again. This law applies on all roadways in New York state, even when driving on the opposite side of a divided highway.

All drivers should know that the fine for passing a stopped school bus ranges from a minimum of $250, for the first violation, to a maximum of $1,000, for three violations in three years. A conviction places five points on your driver’s license and may result in increased insurance premiums. If convicted of three violations in three years, your license will be revoked, for a minimum of six months. It goes without saying that even one instance of passing a stopped school bus is unacceptable; it could mean the life of a child.

Parents need to also take time to instruct their school-aged children on school bus safety. Children need to know to stand at least three giants steps (6 feet) away from the curb, when waiting for the bus to arrive. Children must also wait until the bus comes to a complete stop, the doors open and the driver says it is OK, before stepping onto the bus. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the greatest risk is not while riding on the school bus, but getting on or getting off. Children need to be reminded to be cautious, in and around the “danger zone” of the school bus, which is the 10 feet in front, behind and on each side of the bus.

School is back in session, so make sure you slow down around school zones and be alert for children that may be approaching or exiting school buses. For more information on school bus safety rules, visit www.erie.gov/clerk/KeepKidsSafe.
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