News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 15, 2013

EDITORIAL: Awake at the wheel: Drivers’ assignment is to safeguard schoolkids

The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — With schoolkids returning to classes for the fall, we who drive anywhere near a school need to do two things.

Lower our speed.

Raise our awareness.

When you’re behind the wheel, it can be easy to forget that school buses stop often, that children cross streets to board buses, that many kids walk to school along streets and sidewalks, and that many teens drive themselves to school.

And, kids being kids, they might not be as attentive to safety as we adults should be.

But here’s a sobering fact we all should be attentive to: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than 152,000 students are injured each year while traveling from home to school and back. Worse, 815 die.

Locally, we’ve been fortunate — with only minor injuries in a few recent incidents. But even those, including one when a school bus was struck by a wayward vehicle on U.S. 40 in Seelyville last year, had the potential to be much worse.

And, in the wink of an eye, a close call could turn into a tragedy. Or during the distraction of a cell phone text or of a conversation or of an urgency to get somewhere five minutes ago.

In the midst of what can be a daunting volume of traffic are the bus drivers — largely unappreciated and unnoticed until a bus wrecks. Such wrecks have become so rare and novel that they are big news when they occur.

But, actually, no vehicle on our roadways is safer than the school bus, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Much of the credit for that has to go to the drivers, who, as many we know in the Wabash Valley, take the safe transport of students as a solemn responsibility. They deserve our daily thanks for that.

They also need drivers’ daily cooperation, for the most dangerous times are as students are getting on and off the bus, not while riding it, according to the traffic safety administration.

Kids — excited to see their friends or to show off for their favorite girl or boy — are in a hurry to get on or off the bus, they may not be focused on vehicular traffic around them and they may sometimes leave the bus driver’s sight.

So, it comes back to those of us behind the wheel to slow down, open our eyes, avoid distractions and do our part to help kids get safely to and from school.