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Motorists urged to use caution near school buses

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

School buses will likely be responsible for the deaths of roughly 10 school-aged children across the United States this year, while other vehicles will kill another four children by getting into an accident with a school bus, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Those are the averages the NHTSA came up with after examining 10 years of data, from 1996-2006, concerning the number of children who die in school-bus-related accidents. Those figures included deaths of both pedestrians and occupants of vehicles involved in crashes.

Locally, Clayton County Public Schools has not had to deal with any serious, school-bus-related injuries this year, and bus drivers made 12.5 million trips last year without any serious injuries, said John Lyles, the school system's transportation director.

"With so many distractions, such as the radio or a cell phone, it's critical that motorists remain cautious around bus stops, and be on the lookout for children," Lyles said.

The school system has 447 bus drivers responsible for transporting more than 32,000 students each day. On any given school day, they drive a total of 18,000 miles, which translates into 3.2 million miles per year, Lyles said.

"We take safety very seriously, it's our No. 1 priority," he added.

Clayton County bus drivers undergo 40 hours of safety training. Twenty hours are spent in a classroom, learning about a variety of procedures, including how to deal with special needs students; approach a railroad crossing, and evacuate a bus. The remaining 20 hours are spent driving a bus on the road, putting some of what they already learned into practice while under the supervision of a transportation department employee.

Data from the NHTSA shows more deaths from school-bus-related accidents occur between 3 p.m., and 4 p.m., than any other time of day. Thirty-two percent of fatalities occur during that hour. Lyles explained it is because children may not be paying close attention to their surroundings.

"Often times, they are in a hurry to get off the bus," he said. "They may have very little knowledge about safety procedures. They also often assume motorists will see them, but they don't always stay in the line of sight for motorists."

The need to get school-bus-safety information to the public recently prompted state officials to urge all motorists to be cautious around bus stops as the 2008-09 school year got underway.

"Students of all ages should feel safe when getting on, or off, their school bus," said Bob Dallas, director of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, in an Aug. 1, letter to Georgia newspapers. "No matter where we're going, or how much of a hurry we're in, all motorists must obey the law when it comes to stopping for school buses. Otherwise, the consequences are just too great."

Lyles and the Governor's Office of Highway Safety offered several tips for preventing accidents on school buses, or at bus stops, including:

· Children should wear brightly colored clothes, so motorists will have an easier time seeing them.

· Children should also arrive at their bus stop five minutes before the bus is scheduled to pick them up, so they will not be running in front of the bus as it arrives at the stop.

· Slow down, and get ready to stop moving when approaching a school bus that has flashing yellow lights. The flashing lights means the bus driver is preparing to stop to unload, or pick up children. Sometimes, children are in a hurry to get off the school bus and may not use caution themselves.

· Drivers should be observant of children who are walking along a road, or waiting at a bus stop. The youths may suddenly cross the road, and they may not know all of the best safety practices.

· The school bus must resume motion, its warning signal must be turned off, and children must be out of the roadway before other vehicles can begin moving again.

· Ignore distractions, including cell phones, makeup and the radio, while passing a bus stop, or driving through a school zone.

· Vehicles, which are behind a school bus when it approaches railroad tracks, should let the bus pass over railroad tracks, and then wait until there is another space on the other side of the tracks to allow another car to completely cross the tracks. School buses always stop at railroad tracks, so the driver can make sure a train is not approaching before proceeding to the other side.

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On the net:

Clayton County Public Schools: http://www.clayton.k12.ga.us

Governor's Office of Highway Safety: http://www.gahighwaysafety.org/

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/