You trust that your children are safe while at school, but have you thought about how safe they are getting to and from school? According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, school buses are the safest mode of motorized transportation in getting kids to and from school. As a parent, you need to realize that accidents still can happen. Safety starts at home and begins with teaching your children how to be safe while traveling to and from school.
Bust Stop Safety
Make sure your children know the basic steps to be safe while at the bus stop, which is where the majority of accidents occur. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, most kids killed as pedestrians in school-transportation-related crashes are between the ages of 5 and 13. Always walk with your children to the bust stop at least five minutes before the bus is due and wait with them until after the bus arrives. This helps prevent your kids from running across a busy street toward an approaching bus or after the bus stops or running after a missed bus. If there are times when you cannot meet or walk with your kids, ask a neighbor or older child on the same route to escort them. Ensure that your children wear bright jackets or clothing and that they have book bags with reflectors, especially if they need to arrive at the bus stop while it is still dark outside.
Tell your children to stand at least three big steps from the curb while at the bus stop. After the bus arrives, they should remain away from the curb until the bus stops and the door opens. When climbing on and off the bus, they should always use the handrail. Check backpacks and clothing for loose straps that could become caught on the handrail or seats. Once your children are on the bus, they should remain seated and facing forward at all times while the bus is in motion.
It is important to teach your kids to avoid areas around the school bus considered the danger zone. A danger zone is any area outside the bus where children are in the most danger of being hit by an oncoming vehicle. This area includes up to 30 feet from the front bumper of the bus, 10 feet from both left and right side of the bus and 10 feet behind the bus. Remember, the fact that your children can see the bus doesn’t always mean that the bus driver can see them. So that the driver can see them, always teach your kids to stay at least ten feet from the front of the bus when walking across and to never walk behind a bus.
At the end of the day, be sure you are at the bus stop before it is due to arrive so that you can guide your kids as they exit the bus. If necessary, allow the bus to pull away before crossing the street to avoid being in the danger zone. If you rely on a neighbor or childcare provider, be sure that person understands bus pick-up and drop-off procedures, too.
When you are driving your car, you may pass through school zones, so be sure to always adhere to the speed limit and be on the lookout for children while driving through school zones. Whenever approaching a school bus with flashing lights, begin to slow down in advance and come to a full stop until the bus disengages its light or other external signage.
Harassment and Bullying
Bullying and school violence can be serious problems. The U.S. Department of Education reports that nearly ten percent of school-related bullying occurs on the school bus. In addition, many school bus drivers report that they don’t feel prepared enough to handle bullying on their buses. More than half of bus drivers report that they believe bullying is a serious problem on buses. To assist bus drivers, the U.S. Department of Education has developed training manuals to provide guidance on ways to handle bullying on buses. In many states, the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) has recommended a goal for all bus drivers to be trained on how to prevent and handle bullying on buses.
Recognizing the warning signs of bullying is the first step in stopping it. It is important to know that most kids either don’t know how or are not willing to ask for help. Some of the warning signs that a child is being bullied include unexplained injuries, lost or destroyed belongings, changes in eating habits or activities, a decline in grades and avoidance of friends or social situations. If you suspect that your children are being bullied or are exposed to school violence, talk with them and encourage an open conversation. Sometimes just 15 minutes a day talking with your kids can help you learn if they are having a problem. Try to be active in your children’s lives by attending school events and talking with the bus driver.
It is also important to realize that not all injuries that occur through school violence are visible. Children exposed to school and youth violence can become impacted in a variety of ways, including depression, anxiety and other psychological problems. If you find that your children have been bullied, knowing how to report it is the next step. Contact school officials or the principal to share information that you discover related to the incident — relying on as many facts as available. It may also be helpful to learn about your state’s anti-bullying law to know what the school is required to do in response to a reported incident of bullying and school violence. If you suspect that your kids are being bullied on the bus, have them sit directly behind the driver.
Worrying about the safety of your children while they are traveling to and from school can be stressful. Knowing and teaching them some basics to stay safe is a great way to ensure they will arrive to and from school safely. In addition, staying active in their school activities and encouraging open communication can improve their overall well-being.
Vanessa Hedge, MSN, CPNP-AC, is a PNP with the Pediatric Surgery/Trauma Department at Carilion Children’s in Roanoke, VA. She also assists as a faculty instructor in pediatrics at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.