As schools across the country begin to welcome children back to school, Student Transportation of America (STA), the third-largest school bus contractor in North America, reminds parents that riding a school bus remains one of the safest forms of transportation on the road. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, riding a bus to school is 13 times safer than riding in a passenger vehicle and 10 times safer than walking to school. A single school bus also can eliminate as many as 36 cars, reducing congestion around schools and the carbon imprint on communities.

School buses are designed specifically to protect students on and off the bus with special safety features not available on any other vehicle, said Don Weir, STA's director of passenger safety and compliance. "The reality of school bus safety is that there are more risks outside the bus than riding inside as a passenger," Weir said. "Safety is all about finding ways to eliminate risk."

This year, as school district budget cuts resulted in some elimination of courtesy bus routes for many students, Weir fears that more and more parents will be driving their children to school or carpooling, creating an even greater need for safety awareness. Because ensuring the safety of students is STA's number one priority, the company offers the following series of safety tips to students, parents and motorists.

â?¢ Be on time for your school bus and never run after or next to a bus.

â?¢ If the windows are down on a hot day, keep your head and arms inside the bus.

â?¢ Stay away from the Danger Zones. Areas within 10 feet to the front, back and sides of a bus are considered the most dangerous spots.

â?¢ If you drop something near the bus, never bend down or crawl under the bus to get it -- ask your bus driver for help.

â?¢ If you must cross the street, always do so in front of the bus. Make sure the red lights are flashing and walk in front of the crossing gate arm that extends in front of the school bus.

â?¢ Pay attention. Listen and look both ways before stepping off the bus or crossing the street. Don't let sweatshirt hoods or headphones block your vision or hearing.

"Just as motorists have a responsibility not to drive distracted, students have a responsibility not to walk distracted," said Weir.

â?¢ If you drop off or pick up your child at school, do not park in a bus-only zone. The least of the risks is the possibility of collision in a limited space. The greatest risk is to the safety of kids walking through a danger zone area.

â?¢ Check your child's clothing and backpack to make sure there are no loose drawstrings or long straps that could get caught in the handrail or bus door.

â?¢ Make sure your child gets to the bus stop on time.

"In the beginning of the school year we see a greater risk of students rushing to make their bus, especially kids who stepped-up and are going to middle school or high school for the first time and have to get up earlier than they're used to," Weir said.

â?¢ Stop at least 10 feet away from a school bus that has its red lights flashing and stop arm extended.

â?¢ Vehicles traveling in the same direction as the bus are always required to stop. In some states, vehicles moving in the opposite direction on a divided roadway also are required to stop. Check the law in your state.

â?¢ Never pass a school bus on the right side, where children enter or exit.

"Passing a school bus while loading and unloading students is illegal in all 50 states," Weir said. "The flashing red lights and stop-arm are obvious signals for motorists to stop. Today's drivers have more distractions in their vehicles than ever before and they just have to pay attention; you cannot drive distracted and be safe."

Student Transportation Inc. serves more than 200 school districts in the U.S. and Canada and transports nearly 600,000 students to and from school each day. The company's continued investment in vehicles and extensive driver training programs are all part of what Weir calls "a culture of safety."

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