What if you could have a crossing guard at every school bus stop where young students cross the street?  

And what if you didn’t have to pay anything extra for this crossing guard service, other than maybe $20 apiece for hand-held stop signs?

With an adult guiding them across the street, the youngsters would certainly stand a much better chance of not getting hit by vehicles illegally passing the bus.

Right about now, you’re probably thinking either, “Sign me up!” or, “Sounds too good to be true.” Well, it’s not too good to be true, because it’s been happening in California for 60 years.

These crossing guards are the school bus drivers themselves. The state requires it at stops where pre-K through eighth-grade students cross the street.

California statute spells out the process clearly: The driver stops the bus, sets the parking brake, shuts off the engine, removes the key and checks for traffic. When it’s safe, the driver activates the red lights and stop arm, opens the door, exits the bus and escorts the children to or from the bus across the street — again, when it’s safe to do so.

Right about now, you’re probably thinking, “The driver leaves the bus? What about the students on board?” We’ll get to that.

Decades of safe crossing
California adopted its school bus driver escort requirement in 1953. Consultant and former state pupil transportation director Ron Kinney says that a requirement for the driver to hold a stop sign while crossing students was added in the early 1990s.

State officials say that since 1953, when the original mandate was put in place, there has not been a documented case of a student being killed during the escort process.

Despite that remarkable safety record, other states haven’t jumped on board with the practice. When California folks talk about the driver escort procedure at national conferences, one of the common concerns they hear from people in other states is that it entails leaving students unattended on the bus.

It is easy to imagine chaos erupting when the driver leaves the bus, but current state director Anna Borges says that that’s just not happening. Students are instructed on how they are to behave while the driver leaves to escort students. There may be occasional instances of mischief, “but that percentage is not an issue,” Borges says.

Also, since the driver sets the parking brake and takes the key out of the ignition, the kids can’t take off in the bus.

“We’ve being doing this 60 years, and we haven’t lost a kid on the bus yet” during the escort process, Kinney adds.

Stop-arm running danger
In the latest school year on record, 2011-12, the majority of school bus loading and unloading fatalities — six of the nine total — were caused by a vehicle illegally passing the bus.

With that in mind, consider the safety benefits of stationing an adult — the bus driver — in the street to protect the students from traffic (and other dangers, as this recent incident showed).

We have crossing guards to help students safely cross the street around schools. Why not have a built-in crossing guard on every school bus?