School Bus Safety: What Every Driver Should Know


October 17-21, 2022, is National School Bus Safety Awareness Week

By Phillip Haldaman, Transportation Supervisor, Char-Em ISD

Every school day in Michigan, nearly 17,000 school buses transport about 800,000 students to and from school. They collectively travel over 900,000 miles a day in the process. It’s literally the safest form of transportation on the planet, with an average of one fatality every 500 million miles traveled. But what makes school buses so safe? Many things, all working in concert.

October 17-21, 2022, is National School Bus Safety Awareness Week. We are reminded that school bus safety is a team effort on everyone’s part. By minimizing distractions and staying focused on what’s going on around us when we’re behind the wheel, we will all enjoy another safe and successful school year.

Motorists should always be aware of these school bus safety standards:

  • Flashing amber hazard lights: If a school bus displays them while stopped, they are likely making a “hazard light student stop.” Motorists are not required to stop for the bus, but should slow down and proceed around it with caution.
  • Flashing overhead amber lights: The bus is preparing for a student stop. Motorists should prepare to stop.
  • Flashing overhead red lights and flashing stop arm(s) extended: Motorists should immediately stop their vehicle at least 20 feet or more away from the bus to allow for students to cross the road. Motorists must not move until the flashing red lights have been turned off and the stop arm(s) retracted.

Even with all these safety features, they are still no match for the damage that could be done by a distracted driver. A national statistic revealed by School Bus Fleet Magazine found about 17 million instances of motorists who illegally pass a stopped school bus with overhead red lights flashing annually. 

Statewide, Michigan’s 17,000 school bus drivers reported motorists running their bus’s overhead flashing red lights at almost 39% of their bus stops, based on a statewide survey of school bus drivers by Michigan’s Office of Highway Safety Planning, an arm of the Michigan State Police. That’s a staggering number of illegal passes that only increases the chance of a child being injured or killed by a distracted motorist who runs the school bus’s red lights.

What makes school buses so safe?

Dr. Frank Cyr, a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York, commissioned a study in April 1939 that researched which color in the spectrum was the most quickly recognized in an effort to make school buses safer. From that research, the patented ‘National School Bus Glossy Chrome Yellow’ became the North American standard for school buses, scientifically proven to be noticed more quickly than any other color. That’s good news for school buses; it’s a key component that compliments their high safety rating.

Another component is the engineered compartmentalization of the bus’s interior. The height of the padded seat backs, the distance between one seat and another, and the distance between the padded seat bottom and the floor all come together to form an engineered safety “compartment” to help keep children who ride in them safe in the event of a collision. Even the mounts used to bolt the seats to the floor, the hardware, and the special steel ribbing underneath the seats and floor are specifically engineered to work together to protect children inside the bus to the highest of national industry standards.

Perhaps the most important component in maintaining school bus safety is one that may be the most difficult to control: the behavior of other motorists who share the road with school buses. With an increase in distractions facing motorists, North American school buses are designed to help counter those distractions. 

Phil Haldamann is the Transportation Supervisor for Char-Em ISD. 


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