APPLEGATE: Safe ways to share the road with school buses

Published 8:48 am Monday, January 27, 2020

Niles Community Schools is committed to student safety in every sense of the phrase. With winter weather causing hazardous driving conditions throughout Michigan, now is a good time to remind drivers about the rules of the road and how to share the streets with school buses.

Niles Community Schools, Edwardsburg Public Schools, Buchanan Community Schools and Brandywine Community Schools as well as the Niles district’s bus operations partner, First Student, are working together to inform the community about tips to promote safe driving, especially in school zones. Learning more about bus signals will help us all stay safe when driving with or near our youngest residents.

Many drivers have questions about buses’ hazard light stops, which are signaled by a bus pulling onto the side of the road and turning on its flashing yellow hazard lights, but not using the red bus stop sign. In this instance, traffic is allowed to flow around the bus — but must do so using caution. With the bus partially or completely off the road, these stops can be safe and efficient for both students and drivers.

More familiar to many is the red light stop, during which the bus comes to a complete stop and does not pull off the road. During a red light stop, red lights turn on, and the stop sign extends from the side of the bus. For these stops, drivers must stop and wait before proceeding. It is necessary to stop for a school bus that is stopped on the other side of a highway unless it is a divided highway where the road is separated by a barrier, such as a concrete or grass median, island or other structures that separate the flow of traffic.

While these may be more disruptive to traffic than a hazard stop, First Student has determined there are certain locations where a full stop is necessary to meet the safety needs of our students.

Bus stops generally take one minute or less, but there are instances that require extra time. We must be respectful of students with special needs or students who require extra time to get on the bus for a number of reasons. There are also cases where parents may need to speak to the bus driver. While in these cases the stop may exceed the goal of a one-minute traffic interruption, we appreciate drivers’ understanding of these unique scenarios.

Each district is always seeking opportunities to make bus stops safer for students and drivers alike. For example, in Niles, First Student evaluates each bus stop both before adding it to a route, and re-evaluates stops on an ongoing basis. This evaluation includes collecting measurements, taking photographs, extensive research and conducting thorough investigations. If there is a bus stop, you are concerned about, we encourage you to contact First Student to discuss your concerns.

At Niles Community Schools, our number one priority is safety, and that’s never more apparent than when we’re transporting your children to and from school. Safety continues to be a community effort, and together we can make sure students are safe on the roads and in our schools.