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Each day thousands of Colorado children head to school on foot, in private vehicles, or on a school bus. But which transportation mode is the safest?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), students are about 70 times more likely to get to school safely when taking a bus, instead of traveling by car. That’s because school buses are the most regulated vehicles on the road with standards above and beyond those for passenger vehicles.

Students getting on the school bus. Image courtesy of The 74.

But even with a safe design, injuries and death still occur due to unsafe driving practices around school buses. Over the last three years (2018-2020), the Colorado State Patrol investigated 174 crashes involving school buses, with the majority of the crashes being caused by other motorists, not the school bus driver.

“Drivers have to share the road with all types of vehicles and pedestrians. If you’re driving behind a school bus, allow for a greater distance and take it slow,” says the Chief of the Colorado State Patrol Colonel Matthew C. Packard. “Kids aren’t always predictable and stopping is more frequent for bus drivers. We all need to do our part to create a safe environment by exercising patience around school buses.”

Locally, the Salida Police Dept., Buena Vista Police Dept. Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office and the Colorado State Patrol work together to find people identified as violating traffic laws related to school buses and do issue citations.

“People need to be cautious because it’s kids around school buses — we’re trying to provide safety for our kids at all times,” said Salida Police Chief Russ Johnson. “Things happen when people are not paying attention, or they’re on cells phones, or they just don’t care that it’s our kids at risk when they’re getting on and off the buses.”

He added that within Chaffee County increasing traffic volume is becoming a concern in general, not just for school buses. “This is an issue with the increase in traffic volume we’ve seen here. Just on U.S. 285 — one road, there is more than a 30 percent increase in general traffic volume this year. That means that for every hundred vehicles that we had out there on that road — add 3o more vehicles.”

The top three causal factors of Colorado school-bus-involved crashes during the period 2018-2020 were inattention to driving, exceeding safe speed, and failure to yield the right-of-way.

“All attention should be given to the task of driving, that is our responsibility when given the privilege of a license,” reminds Colonel Packard. “Distractions and aggressive driving around vehicles designated to transport our kids is simply unacceptable and this is why violations involving school buses carry strong penalties and fines.”

The three leading Colorado counties where crashes involving school buses investigated by the Colorado State Patrol occurred were: Jefferson, Arapahoe, and Larimer.

According to Colorado Driver’s Handbook, these are some important rules driver’s need to follow:

  • Yellow Lights are hazard warning lights and drivers should proceed with extreme caution.
  • Always be alert for students on or near the roadway when a school bus is stopped or approaching them.
  • If a school bus is displaying alternating flashing red light signals, visible from the front or rear, you must stop immediately before reaching the bus.
  • You must stop your vehicle at least 20 feet before reaching a school bus that is stopped with its red lights flashing whether it is on your side of the road, the opposite side of the road, or at an intersection you are approaching.
  • You must remain stopped until the flashing red lights are no longer operating. Wait and watch for children near the school bus and children crossing the roadway before proceeding

Here is the exception:

You are not required to stop if the school bus with its red lights flashing is on a roadway opposite of you that is separated by a median or other physical barrier.

But, readers, are you aware that it is unlawful to:

  • Pass a school bus in any marked no-passing zones.
  • Exceed the posted speed limit when passing a bus.
  • Pass a school bus with flashing red lights and stop arm extended.
  • Pass within 100 feet of any intersection.
  • Pass within 100 feet of any railroad crossing.
  • Pass on any hill, curve, or bridge where vision is obstructed.