Franklin County Schools will open for the school year Wednesday, and motorists should be on the lookout for the flashing red lights and extended stop signs on school buses and for children burdened with overloaded backpacks near the road.

Did you know that the greatest risk to a child isn’t riding a bus but approaching or leaving one? According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in a 10-year period from 2008-17, 264 school-age children were killed in school transportation-related crashes — 203 of whom were walking, waiting for the bus, biking or in another vehicle.

Drivers are advised to exercise patience and allow more commute time because when school buses stop to pick up and drop off students, other vehicles need to stop too.

A bus uses its flashing yellow lights to alert motorists and pedestrians that it is slowing down and preparing to stop. Flashing red lights indicate students are getting on or off of the bus and all traffic must stop at least 20 feet from the vehicle until the extended stop arm is withdrawn, lights are no longer flashing and the bus begins to move.

Even if there isn’t a school bus in sight, drivers should watch for children when backing out of driveways, going through neighborhoods and near schools and bus stops.

When waiting for the bus, students and parents should arrive at least five minutes before the scheduled pickup time and play it SAFE:

Stay five steps away from the curb

Always wait until the bus comes to a complete stop and bus driver gives the OK to board

Face forward after finding a seat on the bus

Exit the bus when it stops and look left-right-left for cars before crossing the street.

No one should ever walk behind a bus, and those who must cross in front of a school bus should maintain eye contact with the bus driver before and during the crossing.

Because school buses are highly visible and the most regulated vehicle on the road, students are about 70 times more likely to get to school without incident than when traveling by car. However, we all must do our part to get children to and from the bus safely.

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