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'Never worth the risk' - National school-transport-related fatalities spike in November

24 percent of injuries to children who ride the bus involve getting on or off the bus in the "danger zone." Sydney Mook / Forum News Service

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) reports 1,214 "school-transport-related" fatal crashes over the previous decade. Fatal school bus accidents in the U.S. have spiked in recent weeks, with many involving motorists failing to stop for school buses at bus stops.

Most recently, three siblings crossing the street in Georgia were struck and killed by a reckless driver who failed to stop when the school bus' stop sign was extended. The day prior, a 9-year-old boy in Mississippi was fatally struck by a vehicle while crossing a roadway to board a school bus.

"I know it's a hassle — when kids are coming to school is the same time that many people are going to work. Sometimes we get that tunnel vision and think, 'I just got to get to work' and those 30 seconds that we have to stop for a bus it's tempting to say, 'I'm just going to get around this bus," Keith Harris, assistant superintendent at Dickinson Public Schools, said. "But the consequences of hurting child will remain with you forever. I promise you it will never be worth the one minute you save by blowing those lights."

Dickinson Police Department addressed the associated concerns and benefits of school transportation, citing the NHTSA report.

"Students are 70% safer riding the bus to school each day than they are riding in a personal vehicle. This is made possible because of the strict regulations placed upon buses," Capt. David Wilkie said. "About 24 percent of injuries to children who ride the bus involve getting on or off the school bus when they are hit in the 'danger zone' around the bus. Children are struck either by the school bus itself or by a passing vehicle in that zone."

The "danger zone" refers to the 10-foot area around the bus.

In North Dakota, overtaking and passing a school bus with flashing red lights or an extended stop sign on a control arm is against the law and violates provisions of North Dakota Century Code. That hasn't stopped the number of incidents occurring since school began in August. The issue is one that schools and police departments must contend with daily.

"Student safety is a huge concern for us," Harris said. "There's nothing that will ruin our day faster than to know that one of our students were injured or killed coming or leaving school. It's a huge concern for us."

The NHTSA also reports that more than 30,000 vehicles illegally passed stopped buses in the state in 2017 — an issue that prompted school administrators to issue a plea to drivers.

"The reason why those lights are flashing and that arm is extended is because students' lives are on the line," Harris cautioned. "Anytime someone chooses to ignore those indicators, just know that you're literally putting a child's life in danger."

Dickinson police continue to work closely with the bus company, its drivers and schools to ensure students are well-protected.

"DPD has developed a form for the bus drivers to report drivers/vehicles that violate the overtaking and passing of a school bus laws. Upon receiving the forms, a DPD officer will speak with the bus driver and the driver or owner of the vehicle to determine who was driving the vehicle," Wilkie said. "In most cases, a citation is issued for Overtaking a School Bus."

Officers, according to Wilkie, also spend their mornings and afternoons in school zones, which are high saturation and high visibility patrolling areas.

"We'll continue to protect children," Wilkie said. "We use techniques designed to slow traffic in school zones, protect pedestrians in crosswalk violations and enforce traffic violations such as overtaking school busses, school zone reduced speed limits and parking violations."

The National School Transportation Association issued safety tips for children waiting at bus stops, getting on and off the bus, and for motorists driving during the morning and after school hours.

BUS STOP SAFETY

• Wait in a safe location where the bus driver can easily see you while driving down the street.

• Never play in or near the roadway. Toys that could roll into the street such as basketballs or footballs should never be used while waiting for the bus. Horseplay or roughhousing at the bus stop should never occur.

• Stand at least 10 feet, or five giant steps, away from the roadway at all times.

GETTING ON AND OFF THE BUS

• Wait until the bus comes to a complete stop and the door opens before approaching the bus door.

• Use handrails when exiting or entering the bus to avoid slipping.

• If you drop something while exiting the bus, inform the driver and follow any instructions they give — never attempt to retrieve something in front of or under the bus during a stop.

• Stop at the edge of the bus and look both ways before crossing into the roadway.

MOTORISTS

• Avoid distracted driving, such as texting or adjusting the radio while driving.

• Slow down and watch for children entering the roadway.

• Drive cautiously around school buses, bus stops and school grounds.

• Be mindful when backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage as children may be walking or bicycling to school.

• Yellow flashing lights on a school bus mean that the bus is preparing to stop. Do not attempt to pass the bus. Begin slowing and prepare to stop your vehicle.

• Red flashing lights indicate that a bus has stopped to load or unload children. Stop your vehicle and wait for the bus lights to stop flashing before moving your vehicle.