School started today and the streets of Dallas-Fort Worth have suddenly changed. Roads that were not busy in the morning and afternoon are now crowded school zones. Buses are back on the roads carrying one million of our precious students between their homes and schools in Texas.
Unfortunately there were 671 accidents in school zones throughout Texas during the 2015-2016 school year.
UPDATE 8/22/18: The Star Telegram reports that a car crashed into a school bus in north Fort Worth this morning causing one child to be rushed to the emergency room and injuring nine other children. It’s only the third day of the new school year.
One collision or injury is too many. We adults have to use extreme caution to make sure no more children are injured this year.
Ways to protect our kids
These accidents most often occur as children are walking or riding their bikes to school. When you fail to heed the school zone laws including the slower speed limits, you could be the cause of a child getting injured. We all know how frustrating it is to get stuck behind a slow school bus or waiting while a group of children cross a crosswalk. But these rules protect kids from getting serious injuries. We have to be responsible for them and assume they might be careless.
Put down your phones
Another major cause is distracted driving. Being distracted for a few seconds is all it takes to run off the shoulder of the road and strike a waiting child. That is why using a phone is against the law in a school zone. You only have to take your attention off the road for two seconds to double your chances of having a crash. It doesn’t take that long for a child to run into your path. Don’t be distracted by using your cell phone fiddling with the radio, or talking with passengers. It only takes a second for the unthinkable to happen.
Most of us have seen teens texting while crossing the street or exiting the school bus. It isn’t just distracted driving that causes a danger to kids. Failing to observe the street when they cross puts them in much greater danger of being struck. The assumption that school zones are safer places for teens to walk makes them more likely to put their attention on something else. Make using their cell phone off-limits while they cross streets. Make it a choice of giving up their phones for 15 or 20 minutes while they walk home or losing their phone altogether.
Watch out for school buses
If you are rushing to work, no one wants to be behind a bus. But kids who ride the bus to school are shockingly fifty times more likely to arrive alive than kids who ride with friends or drive to school.
The problem isn’t that drivers don’t see the impossible to miss buses, it’s that they don’t seem to care. They don’t see the harm in passing a school bus when it’s just sitting there. They don’t think about kids who might come around the side of the bus at any second. Police officers issue lots of citations to drivers for passing stopped buses.
Now that school is in session, you need to learn to share the road with the buses. That means knowing the rules on how to approach and pass them from any direction.
- Drivers are prohibited from passing a school bus that has its lights on and the stop arm activated.
- The only time you can pass the stopped bus is when you’re traveling in the opposite direction on a divided highway.
- You can not pass a bus that is parked without its lights on and the stop arm activated. Failing to obey this law can cost you $1,000.
How buses can cause so many injuries
Collisions are avoidable. These are common causes:
- Poorly qualified or trained driver
- Driver who is distracted
- Driver who is negligent
- Another driver who is negligent
- Child being hard to see
School bus drivers play a vital role in keeping their passengers safe. They follow provided guidelines for picking up and dropping off students in the safest way possible. A good bus driver pays attention to the traffic and always follows safety measures. He doesn’t allow distractions to take his focus off of the road. But unfortunately there are too many bad drivers, both on the bus and on the road. A parent can rarely take legal action against a school if his child is injured there, but the Texas Tort Claims Act has an exception of a vehicle was involved.
In addition to keeping your distance from stopped school buses, you need to pay attention to kids waiting to catch the bus. Tell your children never to go out into the street. Also, horseplay with other children could distract them from cars driving near them.
On the bus, children should not be loud or distract the driver in any way. Once they leave the bus, they should walk far enough in front of it to keep them from being in the driver’s blind spot. Tell them that the driver can only see them when they can see the driver. And tell them to buckle up. This is the first year that new buses have to have them as a result of two students who died when their bus flipped over and another bus overturned.
The same technology used to catch drivers who run traffic lights is being implemented with school buses. The cameras take a photo of the license plate when the car goes around them. Then a law enforcement officer writes a ticket to the person who was caught breaking the law. This is the only way police can try to catch offenders. So far it hasn’t done a lot to slow them down. Once drivers realize the potential for getting caught and the price they have to pay, the number will hopefully fall.
Learn where the school zones are
School zones can change, especially speed limits. Pay attention to the signs and heed them. They will let you know the times that the speed limit is lower, usually in the mornings during drop-off time and the afternoons at pick-up. If you fail to heed them, you could end up paying a hefty price. Speeding in a school zone in Fort Worth starts with a fine of $127.00 with an additional $8.00 added for every mile an hour you go over the speed limit and court costs.
Texas law also bans drivers from texting or talking on a cell phone while driving through a school zone. The fine for this offense can cost you $200.00 or more.
Getting fined for breaking school zone rules isn’t the end of it. You also get points added onto your driving record. The more points you have, the higher your insurance premiums will go or you could be cancelled and have to pay huge rates through the assigned risk pool. You could also find yourself enrolled in driving safety school.
And if your speeding or negligent driving causes an accident, the cost could end up being substantially higher. You will be responsible for medical bills, pain and suffering, and other damages.
Watch out for bicycles
Be alert for kids riding to school as they can be unpredictable and be in your blind spot. To avoid a collision, take these steps:
- Leave at least three feet when you are passing.
- Check your mirrors when you are making a left turn and opening your door.
- Use your turn signals and brake gently.
Children often ride bicycles inside and outside of school zones. Train yourself to watch for them and learn exactly where your blind spot is as a motorist. Take particular care when turning left making sure that a bicyclist is not attempting to pass you as you slow down for the turn. Some other safety tips include:
How Parents Can Help
Keeping school zones safe takes the efforts of everyone. As a driver, staying alert and observing school zone laws is critical. As a parent, you need to sit down and teach your child how to be more alert too.
For example, they should be told that when leaving the school bus, they should look for approaching cars before stepping off the bus and when coming around the front of the bus.
If your child rides a bicycle to school, get them a good, well-fitting helmet. Make sure they know the rules of the road. They have the same responsibilities as other vehicle drivers. Determine the safest route between home and school, which is probably the one with the least traffic. Let them practice before school starts to make sure they know the way.
Sit down and have a talk with your kid about the potential hazards of walking in their school zone. They are never too young to start teaching them better awareness of their surroundings. If yours is a high-risk school zone, talk with the school board to see what you can do to make it better. If your child has the option to start riding the bus, consider it. It’s a lot safer choice than their driving or walking.
Don’t let the school season catch you by surprise. Here are some things you must do:
- Plan to leave early or take a different route.
- Slow down to less than 20 mph.
- Completely stop at intersections and crosswalks. Expect a child to dart across.
- Obey crossing guards.
- Never use your cell phone.
- Keep an eye out for bicycles.
At the school I adopted today
I am excited that this is my 14th year sponsoring the Rufino Mendoza Sr. Elementary School on the North Side of Fort Worth. I brought lunch for the teachers and staff and said hello to the children today. Here’s a photo with the principal (center) and assistant principal. I wish the school another great year.
Berenson Injury Law can help
Let’s all do our part to make them work the way they were intended. Protecting the children from harm will also protect you from severe fines. It will also prevent you from having to live with the consequences of an accident that is your fault.
Our firm has represented students injured on buses, getting on or off buses, and drivers hit by buses. For example, we are handling or have just resolved cases where
— a school bus driver loaded with children failed to yield the right of way to our client driving a tractor-trailer and seriously injured him,
— a student was hit after she got off a bus, and
— a student in his car was rear ended in front of a school.
The number of children being injured in school zones is rising. That means we aren’t doing enough to enforce the laws and identify problem areas. Every person who drives on Texas roads has the chance to make them safer for our children.
If your child has been hurt in an accident, please call us at 817-885-8000 (toll-free at 1-885-801–8585) so we can answer your questions. Parents need to talk to a personal injury attorney who can pursue the school district or other driver for the injuries and damages caused to them and their child.
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