Everyone is in awe of the lion tamer in a cage with half a dozen lions – everyone but a school bus driver. (Dr. Laurence J. Peter)

 At Panhandle Home Health (PHH), our focus is promoting the well-being and ensuring the safety of our patients, staff, and community. Because we have had the privilege of serving the home healthcare needs of the eastern panhandle of West Virginia since 1976, PHH treasures its role as a community resource. So in August we feel compelled to discuss with you school bus safety – something you directly influence as a motorist, or as an adult with a loved one who rides a school bus, or (if you are perhaps one of our younger readers) as a school bus rider.

America celebrates National School Bus Safety Week during the third full week of October each year, but school begins in Berkeley and Jefferson counties on August 23. PHH is hoping you will put aside the other must-reads on your summer list right now and make this School Bus Safety Primer a priority.

According to Safe Kids Worldwide, “school buses are the safest way to get children to and from school, but injuries can occur if kids are not careful when getting on and off the school bus.” These are Safe Kids’ top tips:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) affirms Safe Kids’ assessment of school bus safety: “Students are about seventy times more likely to get to school safely when taking a bus instead of traveling by car.” NHTSA explains that this is because school buses are the most regulated vehicles on the roads and designed to be highly visible, with safety features that passenger vehicles do not have, like flashing red lights, cross-view mirrors, and stop-sign arms. School buses have protective seating, high crush standards, and rollover protection features. Furthermore, laws make it illegal for drivers to pass a school bus that is dropping off or picking up passengers, regardless of the direction of approach.

In contrast to passenger trucks and light trucks, school buses are heavier and distribute crash forces differently so that bus passengers experience much less crash force. “Compartmentalization” protects children from crashes with strong, closely-spaced seats with energy-absorbing backs rather than seat belts. Small school buses, however, which are closer in size and weight to passenger cars and trucks, do require seat belts to provide protection to bus riders.

Research by the National Safety Council (NSC) reveals that most of the fatalities attributed to bus-related incidents are children ages four to seven, and they are walking when they are struck by the bus or a motorist passing a stopped bus illegally. To keep kids (and everybody else) safe, the NSC suggests you do the following:

Bear in mind that children are often unpredictable, take risks, and ignore hazards. A driver’s vigilance is critical, particularly in the area ten feet around a school bus, which is the most perilous for kids. Stop your car far enough behind a bus to give children space to enter and exit a school bus.

All of us can agree that being a school bus driver is a demanding job, requiring nerves of steel and the patience of a saint! The West Virginia Association for Pupil Transportation demonstrates its commitment to school bus safety via its school bus operator in-service training.  Training includes an annual roadeo where school bus drivers can practice skills, win prizes, and engage with their fellow transportation professionals.

The transportation departments of Berkeley County and Jefferson County Schools each have regulations for school bus behavior, all of which focus on maintaining conduct that enables the bus driver to give full attention to safe driving. Details are available on the schools’ websites, but some of the restrictions you want to emphasize to children are

Parents should keep in mind that children should be at the bus stop five minutes prior to scheduled pick-up, and they must first obtain permission if their child is to disembark at an alternate bus stop.

No matter what stage of life we’re in, the next moment is an opportunity to maximize our potential.  For young people, there’s nothing like the promise of a new school year: clean notebook pages, perhaps a new backpack, so much to learn. In August, PHH celebrates every child on a school bus by providing you this simple safety information and urging you to pass it on.  Let’s give kids the chance to make the most of their tomorrows!