HOUGHTON - According to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, school buses are the safest mode of transportation for getting children back and forth to school, but maintaining that safety record takes everyone's contributions - students, parents, bus drivers, motorists and pedestrians.
DOT and NHTSA data reveals that 1 percent of student transportation fatalities are on a school bus, and the Transportation Research Board noted that school buses represent 25 percent of the miles traveled by students, but account for less than 4 percent of injuries.
Those flashing red lights, extended stop sign and crossing arm on school buses certainly help, but it all comes back to a focused effort by everyone to keep student safety a high priority.
Stephen Anderson/Daily Mining Gazette
With school now in full swing, school bus safety is among one of the most important issues in the community.
"Safety is a whole ball of issues as far as safety on a bus but the most important thing is the students," said Tom Stimac, Transportation and Maintenance Coordinator for the Copper Country Intermediate School District.
Parents can play an important role by reminding their children to stay as far away from traffic as possible while waiting at a bus stop, arrive at the bus stop a few minutes early, behave at the bus stop and to not talk to strangers. Then, once the bus arrives, students should wait for the flashing lights to turn red and the stop sign and crossing arm to extend before boarding the bus.
"Always be on the side you're being picked up so you don't have to cross the street," Stimac said.
Safety efforts must continue once children are on the bus, too.
"Sit down at all times on the bus. You don't know when those brakes are going to have to come on," Stimac said. "If (students) are out in the aisles, that's dangerous.
"Other important things about safety are driver awareness and child behavior on the bus because it can distract a driver big time."
While most bus-related safety issues are common sense, reminders are important, and particularly with winter months approaching in the Copper Country, bus drivers and motorists need to be especially careful on what will soon be slippery roads in blustery conditions.
"Everybody has to change, including our bus drivers, from summer driving to winter driving, without a doubt," Stimac said.
Poor visibility and icy road conditions can create a dangerous situation, but regardless of the conditions, it's important for drivers to keep their distance from school buses with the understanding a stop could be coming at any time.
"For the public, obey the lights," said Stimac, who has been in his position with the CCISD for 13 years.
Obeying lights and signs are simple concepts, but ones that often get subconsciously overlooked.
"When people see a 'Slow, children crossing' sign or school crossing, do what the sign says," Stimac said. "There are people daydreaming who are going to go right on by a bus."
Motorists should be particularly aware around school hours such as 6 to 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 to 5 p.m., while also realizing buses can travel during lunch periods, for field trips and to sporting events.
Stimac said the CCISD and local school districts have recently had only a few minor fender benders, largely thanks to good bus drivers, but the key to keeping it that was is pretty straightforward.
"Everybody has to be careful," he said, "particularly with winter approaching."