Schools around the Las Vegas area have been in session for a few months now. As the novelty of seeing school buses on the streets begins to wear off, it can be easy to get careless with safety.
Buses are among the safest vehicles on the road. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), students are about 70 times more likely to get to school safely when taking a school bus than traveling by car. Thus, when bus-related accidents occur, it’s almost always the fault of the other driver. It’s our responsibility to drive appropriately near school buses.
Before we address critical safety tips, let’s take a closer look at buses and what makes them so safe.
- Highly trained operators. While you need a state-issued driver’s license to operate your vehicle, school bus driver’s need much more. They must hold commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs), obtained through their state Department of Transportation. This requires passing stringent, federally-regulated knowledge and skills exams. They must also earn a passenger endorsement and school bus endorsement as mandated by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. And finally, drivers are subject to background checks, physicals and random drug screenings.
- Highly visible. Large, boxy, painted in bright colors, and fitted with flashing red lights and stop-sign arms, it’s hard to miss a school bus. Their conspicuous appearance minimizes the chance that other drivers will make a wrong move simply because they didn’t see the school bus on the road.
- Designed for safety. If you have been on a school bus lately, you may have noticed that they don’t have seat belts in many cases. So how could they be safer than cars? The answer is that school buses feature a built-in, highly effective safety restraint system. Their sheer mass allows them to distribute crash force better than smaller vehicles. They also feature “compartmentalization,” which protects children through strong, closely-spaced seats. This ensures that if your child is forced forward by impact, their momentum will be absorbed by the seat back in front of them. In addition, the front of the bus features crush zones that reduce the impact of collisions. And finally, they have an extremely rigid exterior, allowing them to withstand maximum crash force and resist damage if they roll.
- Thoroughly tested. While it is standard procedure in the automobile industry to run safety tests before vehicles go public, buses undergo an especially rigorous testing process. They must be able to survive simulated collisions from a variety of different angles to get a stamp of approval.
Sharing the Road with School Buses
While the highly regulated nature of buses and their operators helps ensure safe passage for their young travelers, accidents still can and do happen. To avoid causing one of these accidents, it’s imperative to obey pertinent laws.
In every state, school buses are protected by “stop-arm laws” on undivided roadways. As school bus drivers approach a stop, they should activate flashing yellow lights to indicate that they are slowing down in preparation to drop off or pick up students. They should then activate flashing red lights and extend their stop arm (a stop sign that extends out to the side of the bus) to indicate that they have stopped and students are unloading and loading. Once the stop arm is extended, every car on an undivided road must come to a stop, regardless of which side of the road they are on.
Where divided roads are concerned (those divided into two or more roadways by means of a barrier or dividing section), rules vary from state to state. Some states (including Nevada) require that only traffic on the same side of the divided road as the bus halts at the stop-arm. Other states require traffic to stop on both sides of the road on a few designated types of divided highways. Regardless, all states require traffic behind buses to halt when the stop-arm extends on a divided road.
In spite of these laws, people still manage to drive recklessly around buses. If they are approaching a stopped bus and don’t see any children actively loading or unloading, they may simply pass the bus without regard for the stop arm. Or, if they are behind the bus, they may choose to pass it on the left or the right to avoid waiting.
In Las Vegas, passing a stopped school bus that is displaying flashing lights is a misdemeanor, carrying a $305 fine and four Nevada driver’s license demerit points for a first-time offense. (Demerit points are added up, and if drivers accrue more than 12 in a year, the state will suspend their driver’s license for 6 months). Additional violations may result in higher fines and a driver’s license suspension.
If you believe you were unfairly charged for failing to stop for a school bus, contact an attorney. In certain extenuating circumstances, the charge can be reduced or dismissed, such as if you passed the school bus due to a personal emergency, if you were falsely accused, or if the bus driver failed to activate the flashing red stop sign.
If you have a child who is riding the school bus, there are certain measures they can take to stay safe. Help them master these important guidelines.
- Arrive early. Caution can take a back seat when you are scrambling to get to the bus before it pulls away. Make sure that your child is at the bus five minutes early to avoid a last minute rush that could lead to rash decisions.
- Keep your distance from the street. A good rule of thumb is to stay five steps away from the curb.
- Wait. As eager as your child may be to get on the bus, remind them that they need to wait until the bus comes to a complete stop and the bus driver instructs them to start loading.
- Face forward. The bus’s safety system works best when a child is facing forward with their bottom on the seat.
- Exit safely. Students should stay seated until the bus driver instructs them to unload.
- Cross cautiously. The bus driver should leave their stop-arm out if the students need to cross in front of the bus after exiting. But since not all motorists play by the rules, students should still look right-left-right to make sure that there is no oncoming traffic before crossing the street.
If Your Child is Injured
Even though school bus-related injuries are rare, they do happen, and you should immediately contact an experienced accident injury lawyer in Las Vegas for a free case review. These attorneys are familiar with the ever-changing laws governing personal injuries in the state and can help you get the benefits and compensation that you deserve to help your child and family heal and move forward.