Shrieks of laughter, knock-knock jokes and jump rope games all make waiting at the bus stop one of the best parts of the school day. But for 23 million children who take a bus back and forth each day, the acts of approaching and exiting the vehicle are fraught with risk, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Riding the bus is actually the safe part, says Ronna Weber, executive director of the National School Transportation Association. Kids are 23 times safer on a school bus than they are when traveling in a family car and 58 times safer than riding with a teen driver, she notes.

However, “while bus stops are usually very safe, motorists have been increasingly passing stopped buses,” explains Weber. More and more, drivers seem to be ignoring the stop sign that extends on the left side of the bus, as well as the crossing arm that appears on the right near the front bumper and the bus's flashing lights. “All three indicate that kids are loading and unloading, and cars must stop and wait for children to cross the street safely.”

Of course, drivers should always be on the lookout for school buses and the kids who get on and off them, but student behavior also plays an important role. An average of 24 kids die in school transportation-related accidents each year, so it’s critical to talk with your child about safety around buses.

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Before your tot races to the bus stop, both of you should keep the following in mind.

Leave in plenty of time. Racing to the corner to catch the bus could entail crossing streets without carefully looking each way. Make sure your child allows plenty of time to get to the bus stop. Arriving about five minutes before the pick-up time is a good goal.

Get ready to board. Playing too close to the curb is a bad idea. Instruct your child to move three giant steps away from the road, advises the NHTSA. Once the bus arrives, kids should stand back until it comes to a complete stop, the door opens and the driver tells them it’s time to climb inside. Have your child hold on to the handrail, and watch out for backpack straps, hoodie strings and scarves that could become tangled in the door hinges.

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Listen to the driver. Remind your child to pay attention to any instructions that come from the driver and bus monitor. “These two people are great resources for kids and highly trained to provide the safest trip possible,” says Weber. Introduce your new rider to the driver and monitor so he can learn their names and will feel comfortable approaching them if questions or problems arise.

Cross with caution. Explain to your child that he shouldn’t walk behind the bus and that if he needs to cross the street, he should do so in front of the vehicle. It’s important to make eye contact with the bus driver so the driver knows he’s crossing. Make sure your tot walks on the sidewalk or along the side of the street to a spot at least five giant steps in front of the bus before crossing.

Watch the wheels. Safercar.gov warns that if a child drops something after getting off the bus and it rolls under or near the wheels, she should tell the driver instead of attempting to retrieve it. If she tries to pick up the item, the driver may not be able to see her from where he’s sitting. 

Beware strangers. Unfamiliar people may approach kids at bus stops, so reinforce the rule about not talking to people your child doesn’t know. “Children should immediately tell the driver or a parent if a stranger tries to engage them or asks them to get into an unknown car,” says Weber.

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Jennifer Kelly Geddes is a New York City-based writer and editor who specializes in parenting, health and child development. She’s also the mom of two teen girls.