News-Miner opinion: The yellow buses are out, ferrying students to and from school as the new academic year gets underway. Too often, however, we hear of other motorists not following state law when encountering a school bus on the roadway.
Failure to follow the law puts students at risk of injury or death. Following the law is exceptionally important in the Fairbanks region, where the winter road conditions and the dark of the season combine to make driving challenging.
If you’re not sure what the law is regarding school buses and their flashing lights, take a look at Alaska Statute 28.35.145. Here are the key subsections:
(a) The driver of a vehicle that approaches from any direction a school bus stopped on a highway or vehicular way or area shall stop not less than 30 feet from the school bus before reaching it when there are in operation on the school bus flashing red lights as required by regulation. The driver may not proceed until the school bus proceeds and the flashing lights are no longer illuminated.
(b) When a school bus is stopped on a highway or vehicular way or area, whether or not there are in operation on the school bus flashing red lights as required by regulation, the driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a person crossing a highway, vehicular way, or area to embark on or disembark from the school bus, whether or not the person is crossing within a marked crosswalk.
(c) The driver of a vehicle on a highway with separate roadways is not required to stop when meeting or passing a school bus that is on a different roadway or, if upon a controlled access highway, when a school bus is stopped off the highway in a loading zone that is part of, or adjacent to, the controlled access highway, and pedestrians are not permitted to cross the highway.
(d) A driver convicted under this section is guilty of a class B misdemeanor and, in addition to other penalties as provided by law, is subject to a mandatory assessment of six demerit points under AS 28.15.221 — 28.15.261.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last month published a report on accidents involving school-related transportation, which it defines as “a crash that involves, either directly or indirectly, a school bus body vehicle, or a nonschool bus functioning as a school bus, transporting children to or from school or school-related activities.” The report defines school-age children as children 18 years and younger.
The report covered approximately 10 years, 2008 to 2017. Here are some points from the report:
• From 2008 to 2017, there were 317,994 fatal motor vehicle traffic crashes nationwide. Of those, 1,113 (0.4%) were classified as related to school transportation. Fifty-two percent of those 1,113 crashes occurred in rural areas.
• In total, 1,241 people died in school-transportation-related crashes, an average of 124 per year. Of the 1,241 fatalities, 264 (21%) were of school-age children.
• Occupants of school transportation vehicles accounted for 10% of the fatalities
• Pedestrians, bicyclists, and others not occupying a school transportation vehicle accounted for 20% of the fatalities.
• Seventy percent of the people killed in these crashes were occupants of the other vehicles involved.
• Ninty-seven school-age pedestrians died in crashes related to school transportation as defined by the agency. Of those, 55% were struck by school buses, 1% by vehicles functioning as school buses, and 44% by other involved vehicles.
The lesson here is simple: Pay attention to the road and know the law. It’s what a responsible driver should do all the time but is even more important now that the school buses have returned to the roads.