Florida school buses carry precious cargo – our children. Most motorists drive with caution around school buses and at school bus stops and school zones, but accidents do happen and children walking or riding bikes can be unpredictable, so motorists must always be alert.
However, statistics from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles indicate the amount of school bus accidents in Florida is on the rise. From 2012 to 2015, there has been a 16 percent increase in school bus-related accidents throughout the state. Just in the year 2015 alone, there were a reported 2,698 school bus accidents in Florida.
Not only are there accidents when on the bus, but also at the bus stop itself. There have been reported injuries and deaths during loading and unloading of school buses. The National School Bus Loading and Unloading Survey is produced annually by the Kansas Department of Education and the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services. The survey does not count onboard fatalities. The eight fatalities during the 2016-17 school year were evenly split between girls and boys. Five of the children killed were six or seven years old. One was nine, one was 11 and one was 16. Three students were killed as they crossed the street to board their buses, which had not yet come to a complete stop but were displaying eight-way yellow lights. Three others were struck and killed by passing motorists who illegally ignored a stopped school bus’ extended stop arm and flashing red lights.
School Transportation News (STN) records indicate that four additional student pedestrians were killed last school year in incidents that involved school buses but not during the loading or unloading process. Three students were hit by a school bus as they were walking on or near roads, and another student was struck by a motorist after the school bus had already dropped him off at a stop and left the area.
“Fatalities—which are caused by a variety of circumstances and errors by passing motorists and school bus driver—continue to take place,” the survey introduction read in part. “This shows the continuing need for forceful, advanced instruction to school bus drivers and students, as well as the need to increase our efforts to thoroughly inform drivers across the country about the requirements of the school bus stop law.”
On average, nearly nine students died while loading or unloading the school bus over the past 10 years.
School Bus Safety Tips for Motorists
• Be alert and watch for children especially near schools, bus stops, school buses and in school parking lots.
• Children on bicycles can be unpredictable and can make sudden changes in direction. Be especially careful when children are present in school zones and residential areas.
• Pay extra attention to lower speed limits in school zones.
Watch for and obey signals from school crossing guards.
• Only drive or park in authorized areas to drop off or pick up children at school.
• Motorists are required to stop when approaching a school bus that is stopped with its red lights flashing and STOP arms extended. (See the different situations in the diagram below)
• All drivers moving in either direction on a two-way street must stop for a school bus displaying a stop signal, and must remain stopped until the road is clear of children AND the school bus stop arm is withdrawn. (see diagram, TWO-LANE)
• On a highway divided by a paved median, all drivers moving in either direction must stop for a school bus displaying a stop signal, and must remain stopped until the road is clear of children AND the school bus stop arm is withdrawn. (see diagram, MULTI-LANE)
• The only time traffic approaching an oncoming school bus does not need to stop, is if there is a raised barrier such as a concrete divider or at least five feet of unpaved space separating the lanes of traffic. (see diagram, DIVIDED HIGHWAY)
• On a highway divided by a raised barrier or an unpaved median at least 5 feet wide, drivers moving in the opposite direction do not have to stop for the bus (painted lines or pavement markings are not considered barriers). However, these motorists should slow down and watch for students loading or unloading from the bus. (see diagram, DIVIDED HIGHWAY)
Penalties for passing stopped school bus include:
• Moving violation subject to citation;
• Requirement to complete a basic Driver Improvement Course upon conviction;
• Four points on your driver license; and
• Minimum fine of $165, if you pass on the side where children enter and exit, you will receive a minimum fine of $265.
On July 1, 2017, the Cameron Mayhew Act took effect in Florida, which increases the minimum penalty for drivers who illegally pass a stopped school bus, resulting in the injury or death of another person. Cameron Mayhew was killed by a motorist that failed to stop as he was walking to his stopped school bus in 2016.
Penalties for passing a stopped school bus that causes or results in the serious bodily injury or the death of another person include:
• Serving 120 community service hours in a trauma center or hospital;
• Participating in a victim’s impact panel session, or if such a panel does not exist, attending a DHSMV approved driver improvement course;
• Six points on your driver license;
• Suspension of license for a minimum of one year; and
• $1,500 fine.
Our Children’s Safety Comes First!
With all of the distractions around them, it’s easy to visualize a child stepping off of the bus and not being able to hear or notice oncoming traffic. We are the adults; it is our job to abide by the laws put in place, not be in a hurry, or be distracted.
Joe Zarzaur is a Board Certified Civil Trial Attorney whose firm is dedicated to promoting community safety since 2007. OUR AREAS OF PRACTICE: Serious Personal Injury, Product Defect, Auto Accidents, Cycling Accidents, Motor Vehicle Accidents, Products Liability, Wrongful Death, Community Safety, Boat and Jet Ski Accidents, Slip and Fall Injuries, and more. Licensed in Alabama and Florida.
If your child has been injured at a school bus stop or on a school bus due to negligence of a motorist, it is important to consult with a Board Certified Trial lawyer who has the knowledge and experience to help you. We know accidents can be stressful and want to make the process as easy as possible for you. Call Zarzaur Law, P.A. today at (855) Hire-Joe for a free legal consultation or visit www.zarzaurlaw.com.