Summer break is almost over, and South Florida’s schools are busy preparing for the first day of class. And that includes bus drivers.
“Driving a bus isn’t a joke, it’s not something that you play with,” Sally Dials said. “My job is to make sure that every child on the bus is treated properly and that they arrive safely to school and arrive safely back home.”
Dials, 61, has over 20 years of experience driving children for Broward County Public Schools. She’s one of the hundreds of drivers who arrived at Broward’s bus compound in Oakland Park early Monday for the district’s “dry run.” During the drill, the district’s bus drivers practice their routes for the first day of school on Wednesday.
Dials said the students are her priority, and she strives to make them feel welcomed and safe. But the safety of Dials’ passengers also depends on other drivers.
“There are a lot of drivers who like to speed when the buses are coming around to make a stop,” she said.
One of the most dangerous moments on a bus trip is when students get on or get off the bus, according to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis. That’s when they have a higher chance of being struck or killed.
The reasons for these accidents vary, but they include school bus and other drivers not paying attention and people not knowing traffic rules. It’s illegal to pass stopped school buses with flashing red lights, yet many drivers ignore it, according to the American School Bus Council.
The council estimates more than 10 million drivers illegally pass school buses every year.
And Dials has seen it.
“I’ve seen several kids that tried to cross the street or were going to the bus stop and then the cars— actually the drivers — didn’t even pay attention,” Dials said, “and I honked my horn intentionally because it could have been my child.”
The only time drivers on the opposite side of the road don’t 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, according to Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
Florida alone saw 10,937 drivers pass a stopped school bus in just one day, according to a 2018 survey conducted by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services. The voluntary survey is filled out by school bus operators. Fifty of Florida’s 67 school districts participated in the survey.
Miami-Dade and Broward — the largest school districts in Florida — had the highest numbers of illegal passings in last year’s survey. Miami-Dade had 1,146 and Broward had 1,137.
It’s not clear if any of those illegal passes resulted in an accident.
Florida’s Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has statistics online for yearly child pedestrian and bicyclist related crashes in Florida but does not identify if the incidents were school-related. A spokesman said they are working on updating their statistics with the most common accident times.
The council reports passing cars cause an estimated two-thirds of school bus loading and unloading fatalities nationally.
Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has also been partnering with other agencies for several years to promote August as “Child Safety Awareness Month” in an attempt to remind drivers to watch the road and drive carefully. Illegally passing a school bus is only one of the dangers children face on the road. Car crashes are still one of the leading causes of death for children.
In 2018, there were 130,055 children age 0 to 17 involved in a crash in Florida; 1,438 were seriously injured and 155 died, according to the state agency.
“Keeping children safe as they travel to and from school within vehicles, on bikes or on foot is everyone’s duty,” said Terry Rhodes, the agency’s executive director in a news release.
“Trends in the department’s data are heartbreaking, and it is critical for adults to demonstrate safe driving behaviors to help reduce the amount of tragic incidents that occur on our roadways,” Rhodes said. “This campaign and the support from our many partners truly articulates the state’s commitment to our most precious cargo: our children.”
As a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, Dials knows how precious kids are and is asking drivers to ask themselves one simple question before they take off on the road.
“Like I said, our kids are so important. Consider if it was your child, how would you want someone to go around if it was your child?” Dials said.
If you have questions about your child’s school bus or their route, contact your district’s help line. For Miami-Dade, call 305-278-3530. For Broward, visit www.browardschools.com/transportation to find contact info for your school’s corresponding terminal.
Bus Safety Tips for Kids
▪ The buses may run late during the first few weeks of schools. To inquire about your buses route:
Miami-Dade: Know your child’s bus route number then call the corresponding transportation center number: Visit dot.dadeschools.net under “Bus Rules/Handout PDF” in FAQs section.
Broward: Know your child’s bus route number then call the corresponding transportation center number listed here: www.pupiltrans.org/terminals.html
▪ Children should never walk behind the school bus and should stay “three giant steps away” from the road until the bus comes to a complete stop and opens the door, according to the American School Bus Council.
▪ When they pass in front of the bus, they should stay at least “five giant steps (10 feet) away” from the bus.
▪ When waiting for the bus, they should stay on the sidewalk, away from the curb.
▪ Once inside the bus, they should remain seated at all times.
▪ Parents should always make sure they know the bus route number and bus stop location.
To learn more school bus safety tips, visit schoolbusfacts.com
How safe is my kid’s bus?
They’re safer than before.
School buses are one of the most strictly regulated vehicles on the road. Under Florida law, they are required to undergo monthly inspections.
Many of them now have seat belts, lighted emergency exits and have real-time GPS tracking.
All bus drivers are also required to complete a two-day training. Besides the required training, Miami-Dade County Public Schools also has drivers complete an active-shooter training, according to Steffond Cone, assistant superintendent for Miami-Dade Public Schools.
“The training teaches drivers what to look for when approaching a stop,” Cone said.
Miami-Dade has also added mental health training to the list this year to make sure its drivers are prepared to care for every child that walks on board, he said.
Penalties for passing a stopped school bus
Florida Highway Patrol and Motor Vehicles says drivers who pass a stopped school bus can face penalties including:
▪ Moving violation subject to citation
▪ Requirement to complete a basic Driver Improvement Course upon conviction
▪ Four points on your driver’s license
▪ Minimum fine of $165. If you pass on the side where children enter and exit, you will receive a minimum fine of $265.
Penalties for passing a stopped school bus that causes serious bodily injury or death to another person
Florida Highway Patrol and Motor Vehicles says drivers who hurt someone while passing a stopped school bus can face penalties including:
▪ Serving 120 community service hours in a trauma center or hospital
▪ Participating in a victim’s impact panel session. If the panel doesn’t exist, you will have to attend a FLHSMV approved driver improvement course.
▪ Six points on your driver’s license
▪ Suspension of license for a minimum of one year
▪ $1,500 fine