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Child Safety: School Bus Still Best

Experts weigh the merits of changing safety standards of school buses.

Bus Stop Safety continued...

Heedless motorists pose a risk, too. Studies have shown that in a single day, hundreds of thousands of cars will pass stopped school buses illegally, and that's not because a stopped bus is inconspicuous.

"It's 40 feet long, it's 11 feet high, it's yellow, it's got flashing red and yellow lights on it, it's got a stop arm that comes out; it's almost inconceivable that people don't see it," Martin says.

No one should be satisfied until the rate is zero, but children are rarely killed by other vehicles at bus stops. The average is five deaths each year in the U.S.

Safety Tips for Kids

Children should learn these basic safety rules:

  • Stay at least 10 feet away from a bus until it's time to get on. Then wait your turn and get on one at a time.
  • Before stepping off the bus, look to be sure a car isn't coming.
  • Don't linger or play near the bus after you leave it.
  • Take 5 giant steps out in front of the bus before you cross the street. Be sure the driver sees you and signals that it's OK to cross in front of the bus.
  • Before crossing the street, make sure all cars on the road are stopped.

Diesel Exhaust Danger

In May 2006, two California environmental advocacy groups filed a lawsuit against Laidlaw Transit, the nation's biggest school bus contractor. The suit alleges that the company exposes children to hazardous diesel exhaust, and therefore, under California law, must warn parents and anyone riding on its buses about the danger.

The Environmental Law Foundation and Our Children's Earth Foundation, the groups who brought the suit, are not voices in the wilderness. Many public health and safety organizations, as well as government agencies, share concerns about children's exposure to diesel fumes.

Diesel engines power most school buses in the U.S. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies diesel exhaust as a "likely human carcinogen," meaning that exposure to diesel fumes has been shown to increase the risk for cancercancer. The exhaust also contains tiny particles that lodge deep in the lungs when inhaled. These particles may damage the lungs and may worsen respiratory conditions such as asthmaasthma. The EPA states that children are especially vulnerable to bad health effects from breathing diesel exhaust.

Children may breathe diesel exhaust while riding inside a school bus, studies show. Researchers from the National Resources Defense Council and the University of California Berkeley tested actual school buses used to transport San Francisco school kids. They found levels of diesel fumes to be four times higher inside the buses than in cars driving in front of the buses.

Another recent study, sponsored by the California Air Resources Board, looked at several Los Angeles school buses built between 1975-2002. Levels of diesel fumes inside the buses were much higher than background levels of diesel pollution typically found in urban areas of the U.S. Older buses had the dirtiest inside air.

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