The NHTSA reminds drivers that children are at greatest risk not while riding the school bus,...

The NHTSA reminds drivers that children are at greatest risk not while riding the school bus, but while boarding or disembarking.

Image: Jihyeon (Elly) Han, Altamont Grade School in Altamont, Kansas.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is trying to educate motorists about the dangers of illegally passing stopped school buses with a new national paid media campaign that's running through Oct. 31.

The campaign, funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, comes as the country prepares to recognize National School Bus Safety Week, Oct. 17-21.

"Passing a stopped school bus is against the law and could have fatal consequences. Nothing is worth the risk," said Ann Carlson, acting NHTSA administrator. "Children's lives are on the line - every driver needs to stop when a school bus stop arm is extended."

Facts About Illegal School-Bus Passing

Every state has laws requiring motorists to stop when those stop arms are extended, because children are at greater risk boarding or disembarking from a school bus rather than riding in one. According to the NHTSA, between 2010 and 2019, there were 1.6 times more fatalities among pedestrians than occupants of school transportation vehicles.

The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) released their annual illegal-passing survey in September and reported that more than 51,000 vehicles illegally passed stopped school buses on a single day during the 2021-2022 school year.

Other facts the NHTSA wants motorists to remember:

  • Motorists must always come to a complete stop when a school bus stop-arm is extended and the red lights are flashing. The overall best practice: always stop if there's a school bus.
  • From 2011 to 2020, 1,125 people of all ages died in fatal school transportation-related crashes - an average of 113 fatalities per year.
  • The loading/unloading area is called the "danger zone," which refers to any side of the bus where a child may not be seen by the bus driver, including 10 feet in front of the bus, 10 feet on either side of the bus, and behind the school bus.

School Transportation Fatalities by the Numbers

In June 2022, the NHTSA released a traffic safety fact sheet covering school transportation-related crashes and found that, among school bus occupants killed between 2011 and 2020, 18% were 5 to 10 years old and 61% were 19 and older. Among pedestrians killed? Children 5 to 10 comprised 24% of the fatalities, while 53% were 19 and older.

More than half - 52% - of the school-age pedestrians killed in such crashes between 2011 and 2020 were between 5 and 10. More of those victims died between 7 and 8 a.m. and between 3 and 4 p.m. than any other time of day. More than one-fifth - 21% - of all school-age pedestrians killed were struck by a school transportation vehicle going straight.

To help avoid these tragedies, the NHTSA recommends:

  • Never pass on the right side of the bus where children enter or exit.
  • Don't drive while distracted.
  • Obey all traffic signs and signals.