Now that we are well into September and another school year has started, seas of yellow school buses are once again active in our neighbourhoods. School buses can be quite large and make frequent stops, picking up and dropping off students at their homes and schools throughout the day. While it is always important to share the road with pedestrians, cyclists, and other vehicles, it is vital to ensure that you know the law and proper courtesy required when driving around school buses.
In honour of the autumn season and the children in our communities heading back to school, we want to share our top five tips to help you appropriately share the road with school buses. By following these rules, you can help ensure that everybody stays safe this school year, including school bus passengers, pedestrians, other drivers, and you.
Tip #1 – Plan to Wait
School buses make frequent stops and tend to drive more slowly than many other vehicles on the road. The old adage of Murphy’s Law seems to hold especially true when we are running late for something, and falling in line behind a school bus sometimes seems inevitable. Driving behind a school bus can mean small delays, and this can be an especially stressful experience if time is pressing. It’s therefore prudent to give yourself extra time in the mornings. Try leaving your home 10 minutes earlier than you think you might need to, in order to build in a buffer of time should your drive take longer due to frequently-stopping school buses.
School zones are also areas of reduced speed, and statutory speed limits tend to be 30 to 50 km/h in those areas. Following the speed limit and being a patient motorist around school buses is especially important in school zones. Starting your day a bit earlier can help alleviate delays due to the increased presence of school buses and students on your way to work.
Tip #2 – Leave Some Room
As just mentioned, school buses need to make frequent stops. This includes stopping at railway crossings and as needed along the street. If you are not paying attention or following too closely, the bus may stop before you realize it. Crashing into the back of a bus can cause serious damage to your vehicle, damage to the bus, and has the potential to injure individuals in both vehicles. Always give buses extra space when driving behind them, never cut a bus off when passing them, and if you notice a school bus behind you, ensure you brake early and gradually at stop signs and stop lights to give the bus driver advance warning that you are going to stop. Don’t forget that buses are large vehicles and require braking much earlier than a small sedan.
Tip #3 – Know the Law
There may be some confusion for motorists when they see, for example, a school bus facing in the opposite direction of travel and stopped to let students on or off. But the law is clear: when you are driving on a highway, a city street, or a country road, every motorist traveling in either direction must stop when the school bus has stopped and has its red lights flashing. A flashing arm, typically with a standard “Stop” sign on it, will also swing out from the bus. As a motorist, you must stop until the sign folds back in, the bus lights have stopped flashing, and the bus begins to move again. This to ensure that all children are safe to cross the street when walking between the bus and their homes. If you are coming from behind the bus, stop at least 20 meters away. If you are approaching the bus from the front, stop before you reach the bus, and give enough distance for children getting off the bus to cross the road in front of you.
Every day, school buses transport children of all sizes and abilities, and some children taking the bus are very small or have mobility issues, making driver alertness extra important. Furthermore, failing to stop for a school bus attracts significant fines in addition to possible demerit points and jail time. Obeying the law and stopping for school buses is crucial in keeping everybody safe, especially our children.
Tip #4 – Keep an Eye Out
Even if you do not see a school bus on the road, there is always a strong possibility that there are students waiting to be picked up, standing at the sides of the various roads and streets that you drive on each day. With the shortening of daylight hours and the turning of our clocks one hour back in November, it will still be dark out in the mornings when many children leave their house for school, and the sun will be setting as they get home. It is important to always be prudent in looking for pedestrians on the sides of the road, especially when it is dark outside. This includes being aware of any children that are waiting for their school buses.
Tip #5 – Teach Your Children About Bus and Road Safety
The job of a bus driver is a tough one, and involves supervising and taking care of many children at a time. School bus drivers cannot keep their eyes on everybody and everything around them at all times. As such, children and students who take the bus have a responsibility in keeping themselves safe. Teach your children about school bus safety at a young age and be sure to reinforce to them periodically the importance of keeping themselves safe. For example, if your child’s bus stop is at a busy intersection, have them wait at a fair distance back from the road until their bus comes to a full stop and its doors open. There will always be drivers on the road who are not paying attention to all that is happening around them, and the closer a child is standing to the road, the more dangerous of a position they are in.
Similarly, tell your children not to run or horse around while they are waiting for and getting on and off the bus. It’s very important for children to pay attention and be alert as they are waiting for their bus and crossing the road. If your child is too young or has a disability that lessens their chance of being alert and able to react, try to make sure they have somebody to wait with before school and to meet them after school: yourself, an older sibling, or maybe a neighbour with a child who also rides the bus.
Now that schooling is back in session, we must all use extra caution and good judgment around school buses in order to ensure a safe trip for everyone in our communities.