School bells are ringing across Mississippi signaling the start of another school year. As students and teachers settle in after the summer break, the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents reminds drivers to follow all traffic laws in school zones and around school buses.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, children are about 70 times more likely to get to school safely when taking a bus instead of traveling by car. Since school bus transportation by design is safer than passenger vehicles, the NHTSA adds that children face the greatest risk when approaching or leaving the bus.
“A heightened sense of awareness when driving through school zones and approaching school buses is key to preventing avoidable accidents,” said Phil Burchfield, MASS executive director. “We encourage drivers to stay focused on the road, constantly scanning the environment and ready to stop at a moment’s notice. All it takes is a few seconds of your time to ensure the safety of Mississippi’s children.”
Drivers in Mississippi are required to stop at least 10 feet from a school bus when the bus is loading or unloading children. They must not proceed until all children have crossed the street, flashing red lights are no longer activated and the stop sign on the side of the bus is retracted.
MASS also is reminding drivers that there are serious consequences for disobeying the law. In 2011, the state Legislature passed Nathan’s Law, which was named for a 5-year-old Jones County boy who was killed by a driver passing a stopped school bus.
In addition to higher fines, drivers will be charged with a felony if their illegal action results in injury or death. The law also allows school districts to mount cameras on stop arms to help identify offenders.
“We know that today’s drivers are faced with many obstacles and challenges as they travel from one destination to another. But when it comes to school bus safety, we also know seconds count,” said Burchfield. “In fact, just 30 seconds is the average time it takes for children to safely get on or off a school bus. That short delay is more than worth it when it comes to protecting their lives.”
Here are a few helpful tips:
• Stay focused and alert while driving. Never drive distracted.
• When driving in school zones, obey all posted speed limits and watch out for children who may dart into the street.
• Be extra careful around children congregating near bus stops.
• Learn and obey school bus laws, as well as the flashing signal lights and signs that school bus drivers use to alert drivers of stops.
For more safety tips, visit the NHTSA’s School Bus Safety page or the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s Back to School page. And to learn more about MASS’ award-winning ‘30 Seconds Can Save a Lifetime’ initiative designed to reach as many Mississippians as possible, visit the MASS website.
The Mississippi Association of School Superintendents and the Alliance of Educational Leaders of Mississippi is a non-profit association whose membership is made up of 139 public school superintendents and more than 2,000 public school administrators. Its mission is to provide resources, advocacy, leadership, policy information, training, support, renewal, and public relations services that improve the quality of public education.
Learn more at www.superintendents.ms