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Awareness is key for school bus safety

The Rowan-Salisbury School System runs 193 busses 2,434,287 miles carrying 10,500 students every day during the school year, and that doesn’t include activity busses used for field trips and athletic events.
Keeping all those children safe is the top priority for Tim Beck, the Rowan-Salisbury director of transportation and the rest of his team, but he says they can’t do it alone — parents, other drivers and the students themselves must be on board when it comes to creating a safe environment.
Parents need to teach their children to be aware of their surroundings and to be safe around traffic and busses.
“They really need to be out there with them,” Beck said.
Students should be aware of their surroundings while crossing streets, boarding and exiting busses.
“They never look,” said Assistant Superintendent of Operations Anthony Vann. “They just assume everyone follows the rules.”
Other drivers also need to put down distractions such as cell phones, keep an eye out for children and expect stops when they see school busses, as well as be aware of traffic laws concerning busses.
According to North Carolina traffic laws, all cars going either direction must stop when a bus stops for passengers unless the road is four lanes or more and is either divided by a median or a center turning lane.
“If you’re not sure, stop,” Beck said. “Err on the side of safety. …If there’s a school bus, there’s a child close by,” he said.
“Just automatically be cautious” anytime you see a yellow bus, he added.
Bus drivers go through extensive training before they are given their license. They take annual refresher courses and are relicensed every three years.
Last year, Rowan-Salisbury school busses were involved in roughly 25 accidents.
“Most of them were very minor,” he said. The vast majority were minor bumps or fender-benders.
Distractions, such as texting or talking on the phone, are the primary causes of accidents involving school busses.
The most serious activity-bus accident happened when a bus backed into a retaining wall in April while on a field trip. Eleven students were taken to the hospital to check for injuries, but all were released that day.
An empty bus for exceptional children flipped on Jan. 2, when the driver went onto the shoulder of the road, overcorrected and flipped the vehicle.
On March 4, a car driver clipped the front of a bus with the back of her vehicle when she swerved to get back into her lane. Her car spun out and left her badly injured. No students were injured.
Later in March, a bus slid off the road due to icy road conditions.
But the most tragic accident wasn’t even on a bus at all.
West Rowan junior Makinzy Smith was hit by a car and killed as he crossed the road to board his school bus early one morning. The car driver failed to stop for his school bus.
The busses are the “safest place” for students to be, Beck said. “Getting them on and off the bus is the problem.”

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