With a daily ridership of nearly 800 students, safety is a full-time concern for employees of the Steamboat Springs School District's transportation department.
But the responsibility for school bus safety extends beyond the drivers behind the wheels of giant, yellow Blue Birds, local and national school transportation experts say.
As the school year begins for more than 2,000 Routt County children, those experts are urging parents, students and all drivers to pay particular attention to traffic laws and to take other measures to ensure a safe year for students.
Ed Dingledine, transportation director for the Steamboat Springs School District, said one of the biggest problems bus drivers have is motorists who don't obey the flashing stop signs that extend from the sides of buses at each stop.
By law, all traffic must stop when the flashing sign extends -- and for good reason. Students loading or unloading from the bus often cross streets, creating a potentially deadly situation if a passing motorist doesn't stop to wait for children and the bus to clear the area.
Mary Greer, a spokeswoman for AAA Colorado, said motorists also need to be cautious when they are near schools.
"Children get caught up in the excitement of back-to-school season and forget to look out for cars," Greer said. "Many youngsters have trouble making accurate judgments about traffic speed and distance, so drivers have to be particularly aware."
AAA Colorado's "School's Open, Drive Carefully" campaign offers several tips to drivers, including:
n Slow down in or near school and residential areas.
n Come to a complete stop at all intersections.
n Drive with your headlights on so children can see you.
n Scan the area between parked cars and other objects for signs that children could dart into the road.
n Practice extra caution in adverse weather conditions.
n Always stop for school buses that are loading and unloading students.
Some safety responsibility also rests with students and their parents, Dingledine said. Children need to obey bus rules to help ensure a safe ride to and from school.
"It's the same rules as the classroom," he said. "You're expected to stay seated and not harass other students."
But Dingledine said the bus can be fun, too.
"I look at the bus as somewhere between the classroom and the playground," he said. Fun is allowed, but misbehaving is not.
For more information on school transportation in Steamboat, call Dingledine at 879-1057. For school transportation information for the South Routt School District, call 736-2313, and for information for the Hayden School District, call 276-3864.