Make room for school buses


They called them the most dangerous stretches of road on Long Island. No crosswalks. Speeding cars. Pedestrians literally running for their lives simply to get from one side of the street to the other.
A survey conducted last year by Vision Long Island — a group of community leaders from Nassau and Suffolk counties committed to advancing more livable, economically sustainable and environmentally responsible growth — found these trouble spots in six neighborhoods, including Baldwin and Hempstead village. The study came on the heels of more than 6,000 accidents reported in the Town of Hempstead involving pedestrians.
“There’s a need in the area,” Vision Long Island Executive Director Eric Alexander said. “And we can do better.”
As schools open their doors for the fall once again, all of us must do better — at least do our part to ensure that our young folk can safely make it to their campuses. That means keeping an eye out for kids crossing streets, walking along roads where there might not be sidewalks, or simply standing and waiting for a bus.
Every morning — and every afternoon — hundreds of bus drivers are tasked with getting our children to and from school. But that task isn’t easy. Especially with impatient car drivers who might try to speed around slowing or stopped buses.
But even the most well-meaning car drivers can be a headache for school buses. The yellow behemoths have a number of blind spots, take longer to stop, and require far more room to maneuver, according to the state transportation department.
Because of that, it’s important to keep your distance from buses, especially when they stop. When you’re behind them, stay at least 20 feet back.
And always be alert. Not just to kids getting on and off the bus, but also anyone waiting at a bus stop or running to catch a bus. They might not be paying attention to what’s around them, and could dart into traffic — right in front of your vehicle.
And what about when you see flashing red lights and a stop sign extended from the side of the bus? Are there any times you don’t have to stop? The answer is simple: no.
State law requires you to stop for a school bus with flashing red lights and the extended stop sign whether you’re on a two-lane road, a multi-lane road with a paved median, or a divided highway. That’s right — even a barrier in the middle of a street separating you from a school bus in traffic going in the opposite direction isn’t enough to excuse you from stopping for the bus. You still have to stop.
The DOT says many of the accidents involving buses occur when car drivers try to pass stopped buses, or when they don’t stop because of poor visibility in rain, snow or fog. Some are caused by bus drivers waving cars through, unaware that a child is crossing the street. What does that mean to you? If a bus driver waves you through, don’t move forward until you’ve checked for yourself the road in front of you is clear.
Of more than 100 fatal accidents reported in a recent year by the state education department, nearly 70 percent of those killed were children in kindergarten, first, second or third grade. That’s despite the fact that those kids account for less than 35 percent of the school population.
No one should ever feel unsafe going to school — whether they’re walking or taking a bus. Ensuring children’s safety is all the incentive any of us should need. But just in case it’s not, the penalties for not stopping for school buses are fines of up to $400 and potentially 30 days in jail for the first offense, increasing to $1,000 and six months in jail for repeat offenses.
With school back in session, our children, the future of our neighborhoods — our world — need to get to class to learn everything they can. Stay alert. Stop on red.
Do your part to make sure they get there safely.