Thirty seconds may not seem like a long time, but when it comes to school bus safety, those moments can save a lifetime. That’s the message behind a Mississippi Association of School Superintendents initiative being launched in conjunction with National School Bus Safety Week Oct. 19-23.
“We’re trying to protect children and prevent tragedies with our statewide awareness campaign,” said Phil Burchfield, MASS executive director. “Now that daylight hours are shorter, many students are picked up early in the morning when it’s still dark and visibility is lower. It’s important for drivers to be extra cautious when they encounter school buses and to stop when signaled.”
The theme is based on the average time it takes for students to get on or off their school buses at bus stops. Drivers in Mississippi are required to stop at least 10 feet from a school bus when the bus is loading or unloading children. They must not proceed until all children have crossed the street, flashing red lights are no longer activated and the stop sign on the side of the bus is retracted.
“We chose ‘30 Seconds Can Save a Lifetime’ to remind drivers that the decisions they make at bus stops have real consequences because real lives are involved,” Burchfield said. “Each child on the bus has a home, a family, and a future full of hopes, dreams and aspirations. Waiting for them to safely get on and off the bus is time we are investing in their lives and their futures.”
MASS is promoting the ‘30 Seconds Can Save a Lifetime’ campaign through website and social media posts, print and radio advertising, news features and other forums to reach as many Mississippians as possible.
MASS also is reminding drivers that there are serious consequences for disobeying the law. In 2011, the State Legislature passed Nathan’s Law, which was named for a 5-year-old Jones County boy who was killed by a driver passing a stopped school bus. In addition to higher fines, motorists will be charged with a felony if their illegal action results in injury or death. The law also allows school districts to mount cameras on stop arms to help identify offenders.
“Even if it results in something as small as a bruise on a child while passing a stopped school bus, you’re looking at up to 20 years in prison,” said Nathan Key’s mother, Lori McJohnson, who played a lead role in advocating for stricter laws in Mississippi. “Simply stop. Do not move until those red lights stop flashing and the stop sign goes back up against the side of the bus.”
A series of fatalities in 2018 served as a tragic reminder that some drivers aren’t getting the message. That year, five children were killed in a three-day span in school bus-related incidents in the U.S., including 9-year-old Dalen Thomas of Mississippi, who was hit by a pickup truck on Oct. 31 as he boarded a school bus bound for Baldwyn Elementary in Lee County.
“Through the ‘30 Seconds Can Save a Lifetime’ campaign, we’re asking everyone to use whatever forums are available — classrooms, churches, sports activities, neighborhood groups, civic clubs — to talk about school bus safety and to educate their families and people in their communities,” Burchfield said. “Just spending a few moments reminding others about school bus safety could help prevent tragedies.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration publishes school bus safety tips for parents, students and motorists at https://www.nhtsa.gov.