Category Archives: School Buses

RAIL SAFETY WEEK 2021

By Member Tom Chapman

Each year, Operation Lifesaver, Inc., spearheads Rail Safety Week. For 2021, Rail Safety Week runs from September 20 through 26. Operation Lifesaver and its safety partners across North America, including the NTSB, use this annual event to educate and empower the public to make safe decisions around trains and tracks and to raise awareness of the need for rail safety education.

Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) data show there were 756 total fatalities on US railroads in 2020. Most of these deaths occurred in highway–rail grade crossing and trespassing incidents. Public awareness and outreach efforts are important because, tragically, hundreds of people are fatally struck by trains in preventable collisions.

I have an especially strong interest in rail safety because, in the early 1950s, my grandfather was struck and killed in a highway–rail grade crossing crash. My grandfather was a volunteer firefighter. He and a colleague were on a call when the collision occurred. The tragedy had a devastating impact on my mother and her family. My mother was a high school student at the time, and the loss of her father changed the course of her life.

At a highway–rail grade crossing, it is our responsibility, as road users, to stop for train traffic. Trains have the right of way and will pass through the crossing without stopping for road traffic. There are two types of grade crossings. At passive crossings, signage will warn road users to be vigilant when crossing tracks and to look for oncoming trains. In more populated areas, you may be more likely to encounter active crossings, which are typically equipped with flashing lights, audible alarms, and automatic gates that warn of an approaching train. When warnings are activated at a crossing, the appropriate and safe action is to stop and wait. Trains are faster than they seem, and they don’t stop on a dime. The average freight train traveling at 55 mph can take a mile or more to stop.

So, what should you do if your vehicle becomes stuck on the tracks at a grade crossing? First, get out of your car. Then, call the number on the Emergency Notification System (ENS) sign posted near the crossing. These blue-and-white signs include a number to call and a US Department of Transportation crossing identification number. If you cannot find the sign, simply call 911. Additional information is included in this brief video produced by Operation Lifesaver. Also, the FRA developed its Crossing Locator App to help you find and call the ENS in case of an emergency or if you have a safety concern about a specific highway–rail grade crossing.

Too often, those who are struck and killed by trains near or on the tracks could have avoided putting their lives in such perilous danger. According to the FRA, more than 400 trespass fatalities occur each year, and the vast majority of them are preventable. An especially tragic example is highlighted in our investigation of a 2014 trespassing accident that involved a film crew near Jesup, Georgia, that was filming on a rail bridge without authorization when a freight train passed. One crewmember was killed, and six others were injured as a result of this preventable accident.

Whether you are taking a shortcut by crossing railroad tracks, or jogging, taking pictures (selfies included), fishing, or riding a recreational off-road vehicle, on or around tracks, you put yourself in imminent danger.

Remember, trains are faster and quieter than you think. They can’t stop quickly. They can’t swerve. They are enormously powerful machines and taking a chance on a collision with a train is risky business.

During this year’s Rail Safety Week, all of us at the NTSB join our friends at Operation Lifesaver in their mission to save lives around railroad tracks and trains. Here’s how you can do your part.

  • Know the signs.
  • Make good decisions.
  • Talk to your loved ones about rail safety.

Together, we can STOP track tragedies. See tracks? Think train.

Back-to-School Transportation Safety

By Stephanie Shaw, NTSB Safety Advocate

As parents, caregivers, teachers, school administrators, and school transportation safety professionals prepare for the return to school the health and safety of our children is the highest priority. 

This school year, back to school preparation for our children looks very different and it’s easy to forget about transportation safety amidst these other thoughts and concerns. But it’s so important that in addition to ensuring children are safe in the classroom, we also dedicate the time to discuss with our kids the safest way for them to get to and from school.

Over the past 50 years, we’ve made school transportation safety a priority. Many of the most pressing back-to-school transportation issues (including speeding, impaired driving, distracted driving, and pedestrian and bicycle safety) are currently items on our Most Wanted List (MWL) of transportation safety improvements. Our MWL contains what we believe to be the safety improvements that can prevent crashes and save lives, and these issues are among our highest priorities in our advocacy work.

The hour before and after school are the most dangers times for students on the roads.  In fact, more school-age pedestrians were killed between 7-7:59 a.m. and 3-3:39 p.m. than any other hours of the day. 

So, how will your kids get to school this year? Will they take the bus? Do you have a carpool set up with another family? Do they walk or bike to school? Is your teen driving to and from school this year? Regardless of how your child gets there and home, this is a critical time for you, as a parent, to think about ways you can help keep them safe. By talking to your children about steps you can take together this school year to ensure a safe trip to and from school.

Here are a few tips for keeping students safe this school year:

  • Students are about 70 times more likely to get to school safely if they take the school bus instead of traveling by car. If your student can ride the bus, make this your first choice.  School buses are the safest vehicle for traveling to- and from- school and school-related activities. If your students school bus is equipped with seat belts ask them to buckle up, every trip, every time.
  • If your student will be walking to school, map out the safest route for them before school is back in session and practice it a few times. This will help your child become familiar with the route, including any crosswalks or intersections they may need to negotiate and allows you the opportunity to demonstrate safe walking behaviors.
  • If you have a student biking to school, be sure they wear a helmet and reflective gear! Helmets are the most important piece of safety equipment for bicycle riders. Just as with walking, it’s also important to help your child select the safest bicycle route before starting the school year.
  • If you’re the parent of a teen driver, talk to them about safe driving behaviors—following posted speed limits, no cell phone use, about always buckling up and getting enough sleep before they get behind the wheel.  Consider signing a parent-teen driving contract with your teen driver with clear guidelines for using the car. 

We all have a shared responsibility to ensure that all children make it to school and return home safely.  Drivers, be on the look out for children in neighborhoods and around schools, and slow down. If you approach a school bus with flashing lights on and stop arm out, STOP!  When you’re behind the wheel, give the driving task your full attention, don’t be distracted by your cell phone —hand’s free doesn’t mean risk free— and never drive impaired by alcohol or other drugs, even over-the-counter medication.

For additional tips check out these valuable resources:

School Bus Safety

NTSB School Bus Safety

School Bus Safety from NHTSA

School Bus Safety from American School Bus Council

School Bus Safety Tips from Safe Kids Worldwide

Pedestrian Safety

Pedestrian Safety Tips from Safe Kids Worldwide

Consejos de Seguridad para los Peatones

Teaching Children to Walk Safely as They Grow and Develop from Safe Routes to School

Bicycle Safety

Bicycle Safety from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Bicycle Safety Skills from Safe Routes to School

Teen Drivers

State Graduated Licensing Laws

Safe Vehicles for Teens from IIHS

DriveitHOME from the National Safety Council

Contract for Life from SADD

Teens and Speeding: Breaking the Deadly Cycle from GHSA