School’s Open Drive Carefully

by Gwen Newell
should school buses have seat belts|

After more than a year of virtual learning during the pandemic, students and teachers across the Carolinas are crowding classrooms as they return to school. That’s right! School is back in session and that means the traffic that comes with it as well.

In an effort to remind motorists to be extra cautious on the roads during the school year, AAA has launched its School’s Open Drive Carefully campaign, prompting drivers to slow down, eliminate distractions and obey traffic laws when passing bus stops and driving through neighborhoods and school zones. This is especially important as drivers in the Carolinas have recently admitted in a new AAA survey to not only speeding in school zones but also cutting off school buses.

During the school year, drivers can expect an increase in:

  • Congestion – more drivers during the morning and afternoon commutes
  • Pedestrians – students walking to and from school or the bus stop
  • Buses – picking up and dropping off students
  • Bicyclists –traveling to and from school

School Zones

It’s important to note that school zones are areas with extremely high vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian traffic. Children on bicycles can be unpredictable and can make sudden changes in direction. When driving through a school zone, lower your speed and increase your awareness, to ensure you can respond to any potential hazards on the roadway. Remember, in the Carolinas it is illegal to use your handheld mobile device while driving through an active school zone.

School Bus Stops

Motorists are required to stop when approaching a school bus that is stopped with its red lights flashing and STOP arms extended. There is only one exception, which is explained below.

School Bus Traffic Laws Explained

  • Two Lane Street – 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displaying a stop signal, and must remain stopped until the road is clear of children AND the school bus stop arm is withdrawn.
  • Multi-Lane 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displaying a stop signal, and must remain stopped until the road is clear of children AND the school bus stop arm is withdrawn.
  • Divided Highway Traffic approaching an oncoming school bus does not need to stop if there is a raised barrier such as a concrete divider or at least five feet of unpaved space separating the lanes of traffic. However, these motorists should slow down and watch for students loading or unloading from the bus.

Safety Tips for Students at the Bus Stop

Children should arrive at the bus stop at least 5 minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive. Parents should teach them to play it SAFE:

  • Stay five steps away from the curb.
  • Always wait until the bus comes to a complete stop and the bus driver signals for you to board. Be alert and remove headphones so you can hear oncoming traffic.
  • Face forward after finding a seat on the bus.
  • Exit the bus when it stops and look left-right-left for cars before crossing a street.

AAA’s School Traffic Safety Summary

AAA – The Auto Club Group, through their School’s Open Drive Carefully campaign, are reminding motorists to:

  • Slow down. Speed limits in school zones are reduced for a reason. A pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling at 25 mph is nearly two-thirds less likely to be killed compared to a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling just 10 mph faster.
  • Come to a complete stop. Research shows that more than one-third of drivers roll through stop signs in school zones or neighborhoods. Always come to a complete stop, checking carefully for children on sidewalks and in crosswalks before proceeding.
  • Eliminate distractions. Research shows that taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles your chances of crashing. Children can move quickly; crossing the road unexpectedly or emerging suddenly between two parked cars. Reduce risk by avoiding distractions like using your cell phone or eating while driving.
  • Share the road. Children on bicycles are often inexperienced, unsteady and unpredictable. Slow down and allow at least three feet of passing distance between your vehicle and a bicyclist. If your child rides a bicycle to school, require that he or she wear a properly fitted bicycle helmet on every ride. Find videos, expert advice and safety tips at ShareTheRoad.AAA.com.
  • Talk to your teen. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States, and nearly one in four fatal crashes involving teen drivers occur during the after-school hours of 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Get evidence-based guidance and tips at TeenDriving.AAA.com.

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