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School bus crashes on the rise in Va.

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Last month, two buses collided in Hillsville, causing minor injuries to students

Staff Report

A crash last week involving school buses in Hillsville has underscored the importance of safety precautions, as has a recent spate of bus-related crashes nationwide.

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) reports a three percent increase in school bus involved crashes in Virginia in the past five years.

On the afternoon of Dec. 19, the driver of one Carroll County Public Schools bus collided with the rear of a stopped bus. Some students were treated for minor injuries, and the driver of the bus in the rear was charged with following too closely, according to a Hillsville Police Department report.

Most of the time, however, bus crashes involve other motorists, not buses.

“Recent and alarmingly frequent reports of crashes involving school children in or around school buses are unsettling. Children and their families expect and deserve to feel safe about the transportation provided to get them to and from school,” said Martha Mitchell Meade, manager of public and government affairs for AAA. “Motorists and school bus drivers must be keenly alert and focused, obey traffic safety laws and do everything possible to protect the lives of school children.”

According to the Virginia DMV, in the past five years (2013-2017):

• Overall crashes involving school buses have increased 3 percent;

• 14 people were killed in crashes involving school buses;

• Convictions for passing stopped school buses increased 7 percent;

• 12 percent of all crashes involving school buses occurred in a school zone.

Every day, approximately 500,000 school buses nationwide transport more than 23 million students to and from school. Each year, about 24 school-aged children in the U.S. are killed in school transportation-related traffic crashes.

“In addition to following the rules of the road, motorists are also reminded to put away phones and other distractions to keep focused on the road as buses can stop and start frequently, picking up and dropping off students,” Meade added.

Despite the uptick in crashes, school buses remains the safest vehicle on the road, keeping children safer while traveling to and from school than traveling by car, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). “The greatest risk to a child is not riding a bus, but approaching or leaving one,” said Meade. “It’s important that parents, students, teachers, motorists, school bus operators, school administrators and other safety advocates join forces to build awareness of the importance of school bus safety.”

AAA offers the following school bus safety tips:

While Waiting at the Bus Stop

• Have children wait in a location where the bus driver can easily see them while driving down the street.

• Do not let children play in or near the street. Playing with balls or other toys that could roll into the street is also dangerous.

• Stand at least three giant steps (6 feet) away from the edge of the curb.

• Children should be reminded to obey the AAA School Safety Patrol, crossing guard, officer or supervising adult, if present.

Getting On and Off the Bus

• Children should wait until the bus comes to a complete stop, the door opens and the driver indicates that it is okay before approaching the bus door to get onto or off the bus. Your child should use the handrails to avoid falling.

• Warn children that if they drop something getting on and off the bus, they should never attempt to pick it up. Instead, they should tell the driver and follow the driver’s instructions.

• Remind children to stop at the edge of the bus and look left and right before crossing.

• Your child should never walk behind a school bus. If your child must cross the street in front of the bus, tell him/her to walk on a sidewalk or along the side of the street to a place at least five giant steps (10 feet) in front of the bus before crossing. Your child should also make eye contact with the bus driver before crossing to make sure the driver can see him/her.

• If you meet your child at the bus stop after school, wait on the side where the child will be dropped off, not across the street. Children can be so excited to see you after school that they dash across the street and forget the safety rules.

While Driving

• Slow down. Watch for children walking to and from the bus stop, as well as standing at the bus stop. Watch for children walking in the street, especially if the neighborhood has no sidewalks.

• Be mindful when backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage. Watch for children walking or bicycling to school.

• Never try to pass a bus as it slows and prepares to stop.

• Flashing lights indicate that a bus is either slowing to or has stopped to load or unload children. Stop your car and wait for the bus lights to stop flashing before moving your vehicle. • Passing a loading or unloading school bus is a reckless driving offense.