8 School Bus Safety Tips, Whether You Are On or Off the Bus

School is back in session so this is worth repeating: school buses scream safety. They are hard to miss. Their purpose is clear. Modern buses are reinforced to protect the children that ride on them. The Michigan State Police report that riding a bus to school is safer than walking, riding a bike, or even being driven to school in a private vehicle. Yet school bus accidents still happen. But you might be surprised to discover where and how they occur.

The Safety of Modern School Buses

School Bus Safety

Image: Adobe Stock / CCO

The compartmentalization on school buses, also called a passive occupant protection system, protects occupants in closely spaced seats that are built with energy-absorbing seat backs, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This safety barrier helps distribute and reduce crash forces, and it is most effective when the passengers on a bus are seated fully and properly within their seat without any part of the body sticking out into the aisle.

Because school buses are carefully constructed to protect the students who ride on them, it should come as no surprise to learn that the bulk of bus-related deaths and injuries involve pedestrians. Children are the biggest victims of bus accidents, sometimes injured by the bus itself, or struck when exiting the bus and attempting to cross the street.

Safety tips for school bus riders:

  1. Stay alert when exiting the bus. It is not uncommon for students to gleefully speed off the school bus to meet their parents at the bus stop or run home after a bus day in the classroom. It’s so important to remind your child to be aware of his surroundings when exiting the bus so they do not run into traffic or fall and risk being run over.
  2. Always check traffic before crossing the street. Do not assume that exiting a school bus provides a level of built-in safety. While school bus drivers wait until passengers have reached a safe sidewalk or area before turning off their Stop sign and flashing lights and moving on, passing motorists cannot be depended on. Distracted driving is rampant, and not everyone observes school bus traffic laws.
  3. Stay in the bus driver’s line of sight

Safety tips for motor vehicle operators:

  1. Know school bus warning signals. The lights on a school bus should be heeded as though they are traffic signals. When the lights are flashing yellow, prepare to stop. When the lights are flashing red, stop. And, of course, observe the “Stop” sign arm that comes out when buses have paused to allow passengers to exit and give them time to cross the street if necessary.
  2. Stop at the right place. Do your best to stop at least 20 feet away from buses that have their red lights flashing to allow room for children to cross, whether you are behind the school bus or traveling in the opposite direction on a two-lane street.
  3. Understand the rules on a divided highway. You can continue to drive in the opposite direction on a divided highway if there is a stopped school bus on the opposite side of the highway. Nevertheless, stay alert for students that may be crossing the lanes of traffic.
  4. Observe school zones. Slow down and observe posted speed limits in or near school areas, as well as yellow cautions signs that alert drivers to school bus stops. The same rule of thumb applies in residential areas, especially during morning school bus pick-up or afternoon drop-off when buses and children fill the streets. Keep an eye out for crossing guards, safety patrols, and bustling areas.
  5. Stay alert. Be on the lookout for children who may be walking between parked cars or trucks or neglecting to follow appropriate pedestrian laws. It’s your obligation as a motor vehicle operator to be aware and help protect the safety of pedestrians.


David Christensen specializes in helping families and victims of traumatic brain injuries collect no-fault benefits after an accident. Christensen Law is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Southfield, Michigan.