When Mississippians set their clocks back an hour on Nov. 5, they’re also being reminded that school bus stops will be darker than usual — a seasonal transition that can pose hazards for children who are walking to and from their school buses.
That’s why Mississippi Association of School Superintendents joins forces every October with schools, parents, law enforcement agencies and others to promote safe driving practices during National School Bus Safety Week, which will be observed Oct. 16-20.
“Many children who ride school buses live in rural areas that lack streetlights, and less light means lower visibility,” said Phil Burchfield, MASS executive director. “We’re reminding motorists to be extra vigilant, obey all traffic and school bus safety laws, and ensure that kids return home safely to their families every day.”
In recent years, MASS introduced the award-winning “30 Seconds Can Save a Lifetime” multimedia campaign to raise awareness about school bus safety by emphasizing the average time it takes for students to get on or off school buses at bus stops. Those are the moments when children are at greatest risk from the actions of other drivers on the road.
Drivers in Mississippi are required to stop at least 10 feet from a school bus when it’s loading or unloading children. They must not proceed until all children have crossed the street, flashing red lights are no longer activated, and the stop sign on the side of the bus is retracted.
In Mississippi, there are serious consequences for disobeying the law. In 2011, the State Legislature passed Nathan’s Law, named for a 5-year-old Jones County boy who was killed by a driver passing a stopped school bus.
In addition to higher fines, motorists will be charged with a felony if their illegal action results in injury or death. The law also allows school districts to mount cameras on stop arms to help identify offenders.
Drivers can make school bus transportation safer for everyone by following these practices:
• When backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage, watch out for children walking or bicycling to school.
• When driving in neighborhoods with school zones, watch out for young people who may be thinking about getting to school but may not be thinking of getting there safely.
• Slow down. Watch for children walking in the street, especially if there are no sidewalks in the neighborhood.
• Watch for children playing and congregating near bus stops.
• Be alert. Children arriving late for the bus may dart into the street without looking for traffic.
• Yellow flashing lights indicate the bus is preparing to stop to load or unload children. Motorists should slow down and prepare to stop their vehicles.
• Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate the bus has stopped and children are getting on or off. Motorists must stop and wait until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop-arm is withdrawn, and the bus begins moving before they can proceed.
“Kids and their parents are counting on motorists to slow down and be watchful, because one second of inattention or distraction can cost a life,” Burchfield said. “In every case, such tragedies are 100% preventable. Put your cell phones away, keep your eyes on the road and obey traffic laws. It’s that simple.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration publishes school bus safety tips for parents, students and motorists at https://www.nhtsa.gov.
The Mississippi Association of School Superintendents and the Alliance of Educational Leaders of Mississippi is a non-profit association whose membership is made up of 139 public school superintendents and more than 2,000 public school administrators. Its mission is to provide resources, advocacy, leadership, policy information, training, support, renewal, and public relations services that improve the quality of public education.
Learn more at www.superintendents.ms.