School buses are the safest way for children to travel to and from school. However, the process of boarding and exiting the bus can be dangerous. Much of the responsibility for ensuring children can board and exit the bus safely falls on the shoulders of drivers, but there are also steps that parents or caregivers can take to equip children with the knowledge they need to stay safe around school buses.

Stay Out of the Danger Zone

The unique design of a school bus is part of what makes it such a safe mode of transport. It also makes visibility around the school bus challenging for even the most attentive bus driver. The 10-foot area on all sides of the school bus is known as the “danger zone.” A child who is riding a school bus must enter this area in order board or exit the bus, but parents or caregivers should make children aware of the following safety tips to keep them safe around the bus:

  • Stay out of the danger zone. Explain to children that standing or walking too close to the bus will make it difficult for the bus driver or other drivers to see them.
  • Never walk behind the bus. Children should only cross the street in front of the bus where the driver can see them.
  • Wait for the driver’s signal. Teach children to line up when the bus arrives. They should wait until the door opens and the driver signals them to get on before approaching the bus.
  • Board one at a time. Children should learn to enter the bus single file.
  • Exit one at a time. Children may need reminders to slow down, use the handrail, and exit the bus single file so that nobody gets hurt. That’s especially important when it’s the end of the day and they’re excited to get home.
  • Move away from the bus when exiting. Teach children that once they step off the bus, they should take five giant steps away from the bus and out of the danger zone. If they need to cross the street, they should cross far enough in front of the bus to make eye contact with the bus driver.
  • If children drop something near the bus, they should never reach for it. Alert the bus driver that an item was dropped so they can retrieve it. If the child tries to retrieve the item themselves, the bus driver may not see them and start driving away.

Extra Danger for Young Children

Tragically, half of pedestrian fatalities in school bus-related crashes are children between ages 5 and 7. Young children are especially at risk for the following reasons:

  • They are in a hurry to get on and off the bus.
  • They are inexperienced around traffic and often act before thinking of the consequences.
  • They have an innate belief that adults will keep them safe, assuming motorists will see them and wait for them to cross.
  • They are smaller and more difficult for the bus driver to see and are less likely to stay within the driver’s line of sight.

Young children should never be left unsupervised at the bus stop. A caregiver should wait until the child has safely boarded the bus before leaving and should be waiting for them when they come back and exit the bus at the end of the day.

Proper Behavior on the Bus Increases Everyone’s Safety

A school bus driver’s primary responsibility is to transport school children to and from school safely. However, the reality is that a school bus driver’s job is not nearly so simple. In addition to transporting school children, a driver must ensure their passengers are traveling safely, and must monitor behavior to ensure nothing dangerous occurs on the bus. They must ensure children are safely entering and exiting the bus. In addition, a bus driver must be aware of surrounding traffic, watching for vehicles that might not obey their stop signal.

To assist the bus driver with keeping passengers safe, children should be reminded of the following bus safety rules:

  • Talk quietly. Loud noises can be distracting to the driver.
  • Remain seated, keeping all body parts inside the bus.
  • Keep aisles clear of bags and other items.
  • Wait for the bus to come to a complete stop before standing.
  • Unless it’s an emergency, wait until the bus has stopped to address a problem that needs to be discussed with the bus driver.

While school buses are the safest way to transport school children, there are steps we can all take to ensure the trip is as safe as possible. Even the youngest school children should learn to keep themselves and their peers safe in and around the school bus.

Together we can make Maryland’s roads — and school buses — safe for all road users.