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Keeping Kids Safe on School Buses

child safety and the school bus

There’s plenty for parents to worry about when their child(ren) go off to school (especially these days… cough, cough… pandemic). From getting the a good education to what they are eating for lunch. School bus safety should not be a concern.

If your child will be riding the school bus this year, this is information you need to know about keeping kids safe on school buses. (Quick infographic below)

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) school buses are 70 times safer than traveling by car. School buses reduce traffic. NHTSA estimates 36 cars would be needed to ferry the same number of kids as one bus. Of course school buses are bigger and heavier so can handle the impact of crashes better. But what else makes buses safer? In one word: compartmentalization. (Try that in a spelling bee.)

Keeping Kids Safe on School Buses

One Solution Does Not Fit All For Keeping Kids Safe on the School Bus

Compartmentalization is the egg-carton approach to crash protection that pairs padded, high-back bus seats with the requirement for narrow row spacing. Provided the occupant is seated appropriately at the time of the crash, this method is shown to adequately protection school-age children and adults in frontal crashes.

However, compartmentalization does not provide adequate protection in all types of crashes. This is especially true if the school bus is too small or the child is too small or young. Then keeping kids safe on school buses becomes a more complex topic.

Too Small Buses

car seat safety newsletter

Small buses that have a gross vehicle weight of 10,000 pounds or less cannot provide adequate protection for any occupant just through compartmentalization. Therefore NHTSA requires those small buses to have seat belts in all seating positions. The belts on buses of this size made since October 2011 must be lap-shoulder belts, as opposed to lap-only belts. Since 2003, NHTSA requires buses with a gross vehicle weight of 10,000 pounds or less to have two seating positions with LATCH lower anchors.

These very-small buses make up a minor fraction of the overall bus fleet in the U.S., but often are the type used to transport children with special needs. Most districts are responsible for transporting some students with special needs that require the use of proper child restraints for added protection.

The RideSafer vest is a good solution to safely restrain children 3 and up in school buses. The vest has been shown to be very effective and even preferred to other types of restraints for children with disabilities.

Only a few states mandate all school buses be outfitted with lap belts, including New York.

Too Small Kids

The other complex situation is when preschool-age children ride on school buses. A surprising number of children under age 5 ride on school buses every day. For instance, many of the more than one million preschoolers in Head Start take a bus.

An easy, convenient child restraint option for school buses: RideSafer vest.

Based on testing, NHTSA determined children younger than kindergarten age are not adequately protected by compartmentalization. Occupants that are this small do not have the weight needed to interact properly between the padded seats in a crash. They may instead slip down under the seats no matter the size of the bus. Therefore, NHTSA requires these children to use appropriate child restraints while on a bus. This can be a challenge on a school bus.

Other school bus safety considerations

So we understand school buses are safer than cars in most situations. There are other considerations to think about in regard to keeping kids safe on school buses and around school buses.

In the past year there were several news stories about children at bus stops being hit by cars. Laws are in place meant to protect students who are getting off and on a school bus. It is illegal for drivers to pass a school bus while dropping off or picking up passengers, regardless of the direction of approach.

The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services conducts a one-day count of illegal school bus passing incidents throughout the U.S. In the 2017-18 school year, school bus drivers in 38 states participated and recorded 83,944 incidents during that one-day count. NASPDTS extrapolated that as many as 15 million vehicles could be illegally passing school buses and their students each 180-day school year.

So drivers, stop means stop when you see that stop sign going out!

Drivers should follow the speed limit and slow down in school zones and near bus stops. Remember to stay alert and look for kids who may be trying to get to or from the school bus.

School Bus Safety

Tips for keeping kids safe on school buses (on and around)

On the bus have your children

  • Buckle up, if seat belts are available
  • Keep the noise down — loud noises could distract the driver
  • Stay in the seat
  • Keep all your body parts in the bus
  • Keep aisles clear of books and bags
  • Gather belongings together before reaching your stop
  • Wait for the bus to stop completely before getting up from your seat

Around the bus

  • Parents walk young kids to the bus stop, wait with them until it arrives and make sure the driver can see the kids.
  • Have kids stand at least three giant steps back from the curb as the bus approaches, let it come to a complete stop and board the bus one at a time.
  • If your child needs to cross the street, have your child take five giant steps in front of the bus, make eye contact with the bus driver and cross when the driver indicates it’s safe. Teach kids to look left, right and left again before crossing the street.
  • Instruct younger kids to use handrails when boarding or exiting the bus. Watch for straps or drawstrings that could catch in the door. If your child drops something, they should tell the bus driver and make sure the bus driver is able to see them before they pick it up.

Infographic published with permission from Port Charlotte Volkswagen.

By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004

Copyright 2021 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. You may not publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute this material without permission. You are welcome to link to Safe Ride 4 Kids or share on social media.

We originally published this post in January 2016. We updated the article for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

12 comments

  1. Is it safe for a preschool children to sit in seat with another student .Is there any law requires a monitor over 18 to sit with preschool the child ?

    1. Yes, it is considered safe to have multiple students in a school bus seat. As far as I’ve seen in our law research there there are no states with a law requiring an adult to sit with a preschool child on the bus.

  2. Can the Ridesafer Vest be used for preschool aged children – or smaller children who are smaller than the target size full-sized busses were designed for – on a school bus with lap belts only?

    1. The RideSafer can be used on a school bus for children ages 3 (and 30 pounds) and up with a lap belt as long as there is a way to also tether the vest with either a tether anchor point or creating one on the bus with a EATA Loop.

  3. My child is taking a bus to and from school. It has been told to me that there are 3 kids to a seat. Is this safe? I do not recall ever sitting with more than 2 kids to a seat as a child who also rode the bus.

    1. Hi Megan, It really depends on the size of the bus and the age/size of the child. According to NHTSA: “Generally they fit three smaller elementary school age persons or two adult high school age persons into a typical 39 inch school bus seat. NHTSA recommends that all passengers be seated entirely within the confines of the school bus seats while the bus is in motion.”

  4. Is it state law for me to be on the side of the street my child exits the bus on, when picking her up? If so are there any exceptions to this rule? The bus stop is in a neighborhood and she gets on and off with other kids. I am there for pick up and drop off, just across the street. I am disabled and walking is difficult for me.

    1. Every state has different laws so you would have to verify the laws for your state. Generally speaking, traffic is required to stop on both sides of the street when the school bus stops and puts out the stop sign to allow for children to safely cross the street. Children should walk several feet in front of the bus so the bus driver can see them as they cross the street and keep the stop sign out until they have crossed.

  5. To diminish the spread of COVID doesn’t it make sense to physical distance on school buses? No more than one student per seat would equal the protocol of 3ft of distancing in classrooms. Parents should check with their bus company to make sure that they are taking all possible precautions.

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