The most dangerous part of a school bus ride is getting on and off and if motorists don't stop for buses when they're supposed to the potential for a tragic accident increases.
Jimmy Sprague, Transportation Supervisor for the DeKalb County School System, said he is concerned that too many motorists are failing to stop when school bus lights and stop signs are deployed as students get off and on buses in school parking lot loading zones and on roads, including four lane highways. " Highway 70 is considered a driveable median and when that bus accuates its stop sign and red lights, all four lanes east bound and west bound do have to stop. They don't proceed on until the stop sign is pulled in and the lights are off and the bus is proceeding on. When that happens, vehicles can move along also," said Sprague.
Tennessee Highway Patrol Lieutenant Ray Robinson, director of the State Department of Education's Pupil Transportation Division recently joined Sprague in making an appeal to local motorists to keep an eye out for children. "The penalty for passing a stopped school bus is a class-A misdemeanor and that penalty is actually from $250 up to $1,000," said Lt. Robinson.
Unless motorists heed the warning, Sprague is concerned that accidents will occur that could injure or kill someone. "It would be a hard thing as a parent to have to live with (a child injured or killed) but if you were the person in the car that run the bus stop sign and caused such an accident imagine having to live with that," said Sprague
A 12 year old was killed in Greene County in April, 2012 after the child was run over by a school bus.
According to Lt. Robinson, laws exist to protect children getting on and off the bus. Tennessee law requires that:
Vehicles must stop before reaching a bus that has its flashing red warning lights and/or stop signal arm extended (B). Vehicles may not pass until the flashing red lights and signals are turned off.
Vehicles traveling in the same and opposite direction as the bus on an undivided road are always required to stop. (The four lane Highway 70 is an undivided highway and all motorists traveling in both directions must stop when a school bus stops to pick up and drop off children)
Vehicles traveling on a divided, or separated, highway do not have to stop when meeting or passing a bus on the other side of the road.
Drivers never pass on the right side of the bus, where children enter or exit. This is illegal and can have tragic results.
"In December 2012, twenty eight states took part in a stop signs violation count in one day," said Sprague." Out of twenty eight states, 100,000 buses in one day recorded 88,000 illegal passes. I could probably find ten a day right here in DeKalb County. I just want people to realize that this is a very serious situation. We're talking about our children here," said Sprague.
And the problem is not just on the highways according to Sprague. "We're having issues at the DeKalb Middle School/DCHS parking lot where parents are dropping off students and blowing through our bus loading and unloading zones, which at the high school is in front of the cafeteria and at the middle school is at the front door. The danger is with pedestrians walking, faculty going to and from cars, or children running between school buses to get to a car. It's the same as on the road. If that school bus stop sign is out and those red lights are flashing, you need to stop," said Sprague.
Violators are subject to citations by local and state law enforcement authorities if caught. Bus drivers and motorists can also report passing vehicles, according to Lieutenant Robinson. "The department of safety has a form. If someone drives by a school bus while it is loading or unloading, the driver of that school bus or anyone else can actually get the tag information off of that car and send that tag information to me. I will in turn write a letter to the owner of that registered vehicle and explain to them what the law says about passing by stopped school buses. Obviously, I'm not going to cite somebody I did not see commit a violation. But that's another educational opportunity that we have. So if someone in DeKalb County gets a letter in the mail, signed by me, its not for monetary reasons, its for education," said Lt. Robinson.