Student travel safety is now in session

By: Elizabeth Scussel, Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published September 14, 2015


BIRMINGHAM/BLOOMFIELD HILLS — With the lazy days of summer now in the rearview mirror, it’s time to make student safety the No. 1 priority, and that starts with their trip to school.

According to experts, students heading to school on their feet need to be just as aware of traffic rules as students taking the bus.

Birmingham Police Cmdr. Scott Grewe said that now is the time for parents to have a conversation with their students about pedestrian responsibilities and safety.

“The biggest thing is still to look three times,” he said. “Left, right and left again. Sometimes I think a lot of us can be too reliant on crosswalks. But you really want to pay attention and make sure the car coming is really going to stop,” he said, explaining that while traffic signals and crossing guards can be helpful in getting kids to school safely, walkers should always take extra precautions of their own.

Grewe said the department advises parents to also plan a safe walking route to and from school — preferably routes that avoid busy intersections — and arrive to and from bus stops on time so drivers can clearly see students as they pull up.

In addition, he said, parents should take the opportunity to talk to children about that old adage of not talking to strangers.

Last spring, Birmingham police were on the hunt for an unknown man in a white van or SUV who allegedly had engaged several children walking home from school for several weeks.

“Kids just need to know not to approach vehicles they’re not aware of, and if parents do send someone else to pick up their child, that needs to be planned first,” Grewe said, explaining that parents should make sure their students know that if they’re approached by a stranger while they’re walking, it’s best to get to a safe place as quickly as possible.

“They can yell or run away; that’s all fine. If they’re close enough to home, they should get there, or if they’re not, run to the nearest house — get the help of an adult however they can.”

For those students taking the bus, there is also a lot to keep in mind.

As far as children getting safely to and from the bus stop, that is the responsibility of the parent or legal guardian, according to the Michigan Department of Education.

School districts provide transportation as a nonmandated service, and they establish placement of the bus stops in accordance with the requirements of the law.

When it comes to bus stop safety, the Bloomfield Township Police Department offers these tips for students:

Get to the bus stop at least five minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive.

When the bus approaches, stand at least 6 feet from the curb.

Wait until the bus stops, the door opens, and the driver says it is OK to enter the bus.

If you have to cross the street in front of the bus, walk on the sidewalk or along the side of the road to a point at least 10 feet ahead of the bus before crossing.

Be sure that the bus driver can always see you and you can see the bus driver.

Use the handrails to avoid falls. When exiting the bus, be careful that clothing and backpacks don’t get caught in the handrails or doors.

Never walk behind the bus.

If something is dropped near the bus, tell the driver. Never try to pick it up, because the driver may not see you. 

Exercising safety when it comes to the mechanics of the bus is also important, experts say.

Currently, the Bloomfield Hills Transportation Department employs 54 bus drivers and operates a fleet of 58 buses. For the past 20 years, the district has received excellent police inspections.

“We are very proud of this accomplishment, and we strive for everyone who rides the bus to feel safe and secure and enjoy their bus ride,” said Shira Good, director of communications for Bloomfield Hills Schools.

District Transportation Manager Diane Holden said her team’s commitment to keeping the buses in perfect condition for 20 years running is impressive.

Holden said her staff also reviews each bus route and makes appropriate changes to optimize efficiency and create the shortest ride possible for each student.

Those students driving themselves to school should also take extra precautions.

In fact, according to Grewe, that group of drivers tends to be among the biggest traffic law violators in school areas.

“Students start to park in residential areas — sometimes legally, sometimes illegally. It’s them and parents parked in and around the elementary schools waiting for kids that can cause issues,” he said.

According to Grewe, even though Birmingham rarely sees an increase in accidents during the beginning of the new school year, the department increases its presence in school communities anyway.

“We do heighten patrols the first week of school. It’s just a friendly reminder to motorists that we’re here,” he said. “There are a lot of extra cars and kids moving around, and we want everyone to obey traffic laws.”