September means many things in Minnesota: the end of summer, the return of cooler weather, and, of course, back to school for thousands of children all across the state.  With the return of school, we also see those big ubiquitous yellow school busses traveling our Minnesota roads.  According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, school busses make over 10,000 trips daily in Minnesota.  Although the percentage of accidents involving school buses is relatively small (553 crashes; 211 injuries and 7 deaths in nearly 10,000,000 trips), school bus safety is still something every driver should think about.

The greatest danger to children involving school busses however, is during the loading and unloading process.  That takes place in what is called the “danger zone’ and where children are the most vulnerable. In fact, injury and death are much more likely to occur to students while in the “danger zone,” as opposed to while actually occupying the bus itself.  On a national level, there were an estimated 80,000 school bus stop arm violations in one year alone.  Many of those violators indicated they didn’t see the stop-arm and flashing lights because they were “distracted.”

To help raise awareness of the increased risk to students within the “danger zone,” the Minnesota Department of Public Safety has issued the following safety tips for motorists (most of which are actually the law, carrying hefty fines for violations):

  • Motorists must stop at least 20 feet from a school bus that is displaying red flashing lights and/or its stop arm is extended when approaching from the rear and from the opposite direction on undivided roads.

  • Red flashing lights on buses indicates students are either entering or exiting the bus.

  • Motorists are not required to stop for a bus if the bus is on the opposite side of a separated roadway (median, etc.) — but they should remain alert for children.

  • Altering a route or schedule to avoid a bus is one way motorists can help improve safety. In doing so, motorists won’t find themselves behind a bus and as a result, potentially putting children at risk.

  • Watch for school crossing patrols and pedestrians. Reduce speeds in and around school zones.

  • Watch and stop for pedestrians — the law applies to all street corners, for both marked and unmarked crosswalks (all street corners) — every corner is a crosswalk.

Following these simple tips can make all the difference in avoiding a potentially catastrophic and life altering event, as well as a court appearance, fines and increased insurance rates. We urge every driver to exercise heightened awareness and caution when traveling around or near schools and school busses.  After all, they carry the most precious of cargo . . . our children.