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School year begins; use caution in avoiding school bus accidents in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Port Charlotte

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced this week that all new motor coaches will be required to have seat belts to prevent ejection in the event of a rollover accident. That’s good news unless your child rides a school bus — existing buses and new school buses are exempt from the requirement.

The new school year brings increased risk of a school bus accident in Cape Coral, Fort Myers and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte. Student fatalities are thankfully rare, though they do happen. Just this month in St. Louis a horrific accident involving two school buses and a semi killed two students and sent 50 to the hospital. An average of 19 students die in school bus accidents each year in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
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Injury accidents are much more common. At risk groups include student passengers and other motorists who are involved in an accident with a school bus, which carry the increased risks often associated with being in an accident with a semi or other large commercial vehicle.

State law requires drivers to stop for school buses with activated red flashing lights. For the busy motorist, it can be helpful to remember that these laws are aimed at preventing tragedy; certainly no driver wants to be responsible for hitting a child. Passing is not permitted until the red lights and signals have been turned off. The law applies to cars traveling in the same direction, as well as traffic moving in the opposite direction. Never pass a bus on the right side where children enter or exit.

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles does not distinguish between school bus accidents and accidents involving motor coaches or passenger buses. Last year, 2,163 crashes were reported. Twenty-three people were killed and 1,203 were injured.

As our children head back to school, we encourage you to speak with them about school bus safety. The following tips are provided by the NHTSA:

-Supervise children to make sure they get to the stop on time, are waiting away from the road and are avoiding rough play.

-Teach children to ask the driver for help if something is dropped near the school bus. Have a child use a backpack or book bag to keep loose items together.

-Make sure clothing and backpacks are free of long drawstrings or straps that can get caught on handrails or bus doors.

-Encourage safe loading and unloading.

-If you think your bus stop is dangerous, talk to school officials about taking corrective action before a child gets hurt.