Keeping the commute safe for kids

Raleigh News & ObserverAugust 28, 2013 

I remember riding the school bus with a certain amount of fondness ... and horror.

It was great in elementary school. Just me and my friends, imagining the bus as a roller coaster – a habit I’m sure isn’t repeated in the present generation. We’d run between seats, jump over top of them and generally just treat the tube like our own personal playground. Now, it’s possible (nay, probable) that our driver wasn’t the most attentive. This was more than 20 years ago, you have to remember, so I’m sure standards are more stringent than they used to be.

In middle school, the bus was a nightmare. The cool kids sat toward the back. The geeks in the front. That left the rest of us in that weird purgatory somewhere between the two. We were much better behaved, but this time it was peer pressure keeping us in line. We didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves, lest we be teased.

Now when I ride the bus, it’s an adult affair. A commuter shuttle between Raleigh and Durham. Any misbehavior is an outlier – a strange blip in an otherwise serene trip.

But I think back to my youth this week as school gets underway. School buses, as it turns out, are incredibly safe, but they still contain danger. I talked to Debbie Newman, an injury prevention representative at WakeMed. She is the Safe Kids Wake County Coalition Coordinator, and it’s her job to tell people about the dangers their children may face and how to avoid them. In this case, the danger isn’t inside that yellow submarine.

“What I’ve been told is that a lot of it happens around the buses,” Newman said, adding, “We just want everybody to be safe when they’re getting to and from the school bus.”

It’s kids on their way to the bus, or getting off the bus, who are more at risk. Those vehicles can be unwieldy, and if kids aren’t careful, drivers may have a hard time seeing them.

She gave me some tips, and more can be found on In general, the rules share a similar characteristic: awareness.

“They should arrive five minutes early,” she said. “Because they’re not going to be rushed.”

If they’re rushed, they’re more likely to run out blindly in front of traffic or some other danger.

Additionally, when they’re waiting for the bus, they should wait in a safe area, like the grass or a sidewalk. When preparing to get off the bus, they should wait until it stops moving and the door opens before moving around. I was an impatient kid, so I know how valuable, and hard to follow, that advice could be.

Actually exiting the bus can be dangerous as well. I asked her what she advised.

“Just to make sure that the safety lights are on and be alert to the traffic coming from both sides when they get off the bus,” she said.

Of course, kids don’t bear all the responsibility. The rest of us drivers have to make a concerted effort as well. Pay attention. Don’t pass stopped school buses. Heed those flashing lights. Your impatience isn’t worth a young life. And, in the digital age, drop your wireless device.

“Just be aware. Don’t text and drive,” Newman said. “Don’t be worried about sending that text or whatever, especially in the mornings and afternoons when there are going to be more kids walking on the streets.”

At the end of our conversation, one thing had me curious. Many buses don’t have seat belts, and I wondered why. For a society that is so concerned with its children, it seemed an odd oversight. But Newman explained to me that safety is different in a bus. The seatbelt isn’t as essential because the risk is smaller.

She described the concept as being similar to eggs in a carton. Each individual egg has its own protective compartment. If a crash occurs, the passenger is confined to the compartment, and thus protected. The fact that the seats are higher up also aids in safety, she said. Smaller buses, under 10,000 pounds, have to have seat belts because the compartmentalization principle doesn’t work as well on smaller vehicles – obviously, or cars wouldn’t have seat belts now, would they?

So, that’s my primer on bus safety. For you kids out there, I feel your existential pain. I wanted to make the bus ride more exciting too, but just sit tight. You’ll be safer. And for you middle schoolers, well, all I have to say is the driver’s license is just around the corner. And finally, for parents, heed these safety tips and make sure your children do as well.

Alex Granados writes about people, places and traditions in North Raleigh and beyond. Contact him at


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