Thousands of school buses will hit the roads this week for the first day of classes at many schools across the state. Whether you're a parent of a school-age child or a motorist sharing the road with buses, here are several things to keep in mind:
1. Passing a stopped school bus is illegal, expensive – and potentially deadly.
This summer, Governor Roy Cooper signed a law allowing law enforcement who catch a motor vehicle passing a stopped school bus to fine the driver up to $400. The law also allows school districts to install cameras to catch violators in the act, much like cameras at intersections that catch drivers who do not heed stop lights.
AAA of the Carolinas says approximately 815 students die annually traveling between school and home. Last school year, that statistic included one Onslow County teen who died in March after he was hit by a vehicle while boarding a bus.
2. Children traveling in a school bus are safer than in their own parent's car.
School buses are designed for safety. The high backed, cushioned seats keep kids safe in collisions through a concept known as compartmentalization. Students are packed in like eggs in a crate, and as long as they stay in their seats they're very protected.
3. North Carolina is gradually expanding its fleet of school buses with seatbelts.
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction is replacing more than 100 older buses with new ones equipped with seat belts. Those buses are being distributed in 13 counties (Burke, Cartaret, Durham, Guilford, Henderson, Jackson, New Hanover, Person, Rowan, Rutherford, Surry, Transylvania and Washington) where administrators volunteered to receive them. Research from North Carolina State University shows that seatbelts help protect students in side collisions – and bus drivers who have tried them say they also help maintain discipline because kids stay in their seats.
4. Cell phone distraction is a hazard for both drivers and pedestrians.
AAA of the Carolinas frequently warns against distracted driving. AAA Spokeswoman Tiffany Wright says now young pedestrians may also be distracted by their cell phones.
"We have children that are on their cell phones and they're looking down and they're inadvertently running into traffic or getting into the road," Wright said. She recommends caretakers talk to kids about basic road safety.
5. Nearly a third of child pedestrian fatalities occur during after school hours.
Whether children are walking or biking from their school or bus stop, they are most vulnerable between the hours of 3 and 7 p.m., according to AAA Carolinas. The beginning of the school year is the perfect time to remind children and motorists to watch out for each other.