Bus driver shortage, COVID-19, complicate transportation issues and increase concern around ‘Back to School’ safety

    As the 2021-2022 school year gets underway across the Delaware Valley, AAA Mid-Atlantic is urging all motorists to sharpen their driving skills and limit distractions, expressing increased concern around ‘back to school’ safety because of the school bus drivers shortage and additional transportation issues related to COVID-19.

    “In addition to the typical increase in traffic that occurs at the beginning of each school year, the school bus driver shortage means buses taking longer routes, students waiting at bus stops for longer periods of time and more parents opting to drive their children to school,” says Jana L. Tidwell, manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “While the return to school and our roads will look different this year, our responsibility for keeping students safe hasn’t changed.”

    Back-to-school transportation affects not only school districts, students, and parents, but also other drivers on the roads. For some kids, it will be the first time they’ve been at a bus stop or on a bus in more than a year. For many adults who spent last year working from home, it may be the first time they’ve had to share the road with school buses in more than a year as well.

    “Drivers are out of practice when it comes to the rules of the roads with schools buses and students walking and biking to school,” Tidwell adds. “It is critical that they remember those rules – and abide by them.”

    AAA advises all drivers to prepare for possible changes in and around school zones:

    • Staggered schedules, social distancing and the bus drivers shortage could mean school buses on the roads to transport students for longer periods of time in the morning and afternoon.
    • Some parents may opt to transport their children to and from school, avoiding the school bus and increasing the volume of vehicles during drop-off and pickup.
    • More students may take to walking or biking to school, increasing foot and bike traffic close to schools.
    • Improperly sized or incorrectly worn masks can limit a child’s vision and could put them at risk for not recognizing or seeing dangers in and along the road or in the bus loop.

    “Expect the unexpected!” Tidwell says. “Drivers should slow down, avoid distractions and be on the lookout for walkers, bicyclists and buses. Share the road with them and make sure everyone is safe.”

    “School bus safety is a high priority in Pennsylvania,” said State Police Trooper Jessica L. Tobin.  “Students, parents, teachers, administrators, transportation personnel and the motoring public all play important roles in keeping children safe while on or around a school bus. Motorists especially need to follow the rules of the road when it comes to stopping for school buses. Pennsylvania’s School Bus Stopping law is in place to protect our children going to and from school. Breaking the law results in a fine near $300, five points on your driving record and a 60-day license suspension.”

    Pennsylvania’s School Bus Stopping Law

    • Motorists must stop at least 10 feet away from school buses that have their red lights flashing and stop arm extended.
    • Motorists must stop when they are behind a bus, meeting the bus or approaching an intersection where a bus is stopped.
    • Motorists following or traveling alongside a school bus must also stop until the red lights have stopped flashing, the stop arm is withdrawn, and all children have reached safety.
    • If physical barriers such as grassy medians, guide rails or concrete median barriers separate oncoming traffic from the bus, motorists in the opposing lanes may proceed without stopping.
    • Do not proceed until all the children have reached a place of safety.
    • Breaking the School Bus Stopping law in Pennsylvania results in a fine totaling near $300, five points on the driving record and a 60-day license suspension.

    AAA offers the following tips as schools begin to reopen:

    AAA School Bus Safety Tips

    Always Stop for School Buses – Flashing yellow lights on a school bus indicate it is preparing to stop to load or unload children and motorists should slow down and prepare to stop. Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate the bus has stopped and children are getting on and off. Drivers are required to stop their vehicles and wait until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop sign is withdrawn and the bus begins moving before they can start driving again. Even if the lights and stop sign are not activated, and the bus is loading or unloading students, drivers must stop.

    Keep Track of Time – Be aware of the time of day you’re on the road and how that coincides with the school day. More school-age pedestrians are killed from 7 to 8 a.m. and from 3 to 4 p.m. than any other hours of the day.

    Slow Down – Whether in a school zone or residential neighborhood, drivers should keep their speed low and be prepared to stop quickly for increased vehicle or pedestrian traffic.

    Come to a complete stop. 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 be quick, crossing the road unexpectedly or emerging suddenly between two parked cars. Reduce risk by not using your cell phone while driving.

    Obey Traffic Signs – Unfortunately, many motorists violate stop signs in school zones and residential neighborhoods –many failing to come to a complete stop, rolling through a stop sign or not slowing down at all.

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