With the start of the 2010-11 school year fast approaching, school districts and school bus contractors, as well as state highway patrol and police and fire department officials have issued reminders and tips to help keep students safe.
Top among the reminders directed to motorists is that passing a school bus while students are loading and unloading is illegal. In Tennessee, drivers can be fined no less than $250 and up to $1,000 for passing a stopped school bus. The Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) is gearing up for the school year with a heightened enforcement campaign to keep children safe in and around school zones.
“Motorists can expect stiff penalties for driving unsafely in school zones and for placing our children at risk while doing so,” THP Colonel Mike Walker said. “But there is no punishment more severe than the lifelong guilt and remorse for hitting or killing a child. We are asking everyone to do their part to help a Tennessee child make it to school and home safely.”
State troopers are urging motorists to be alert, slow down and be careful in the zones. The speed limit is 15 mph in school zones and the fine for speeding in a school zone is up to $500 dollars.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol and Indiana State Police also reminded motorists to stop for school buses with their red lights flashing and their stop arms extended. In Missouri, drivers on a two-lane road must stop when meeting and following a bus. It is only necessary to stop on a four-lane highway when following a bus.
In Indiana, vehicles on all roadways except those that are divided by a physical barrier or an unimproved median must stop for school buses. On a divided roadway, only vehicles traveling in the same direction as the school bus are required to stop.
Moreover, the Missouri State Highway Patrol encouraged motorists to keep in mind that traffic patterns will change as school buses get on the roads and they should allow for extra time to reach their destinations.
There are also things parents can do to ensure a safe journey for their children to and from school.
The Queen Creek (Ariz.) Fire Department encouraged parents to discuss with their children the importance of walking directly to their bus stops, and of wearing light colored clothing or clothing with reflective stripes to be easily seen.
“Do not allow your student to be at the bus stop alone. If the parent cannot accompany the child to the bus stop, he or she should go with a buddy or in a group,” department officials added.
Austin Independent School District (AISD) has asked parents to teach their children to ask their drivers for help if they drop something near the bus, as they may get hit if they bend down to pick up something and the driver cannot see them. District officials also encourage parents to make sure that their children’s clothing and backpacks have no loose drawstrings or long straps that could get caught in the handrail or bus door.
Finally, students themselves play an integral role in making certain that they get to school safely. Lee County Sherriff’s Office in Fort Myers, Fla., issued the following tips to school bus riders:
• Have a safe place to wait for your bus, away from traffic and off the street.
• Never sit on the roadway while waiting for your bus.
• Stay away from the bus until the driver gives his/her signal that it's OK to approach.
• Be aware of the street traffic around you. Protect yourself and watch out!
• While riding the bus, remain seated and conduct yourself in an orderly fashion. Aisles in the bus should remain clear.
• Don’t stick anything outside the bus windows.
Students should also avoid “distracted walking.” Linda Burtwistle, president of school bus contractor First Student Inc. based in Cincinnati, said that distracted walking is caused by students wearing headphones and hooded sweatshirts, and it is increasingly problematic.
“These two popular items can impair students’ key senses when sweatshirt hoods block their full vision and loud music in earphones drown out other sounds. Students also are becoming increasingly distracted by texting and using other portable electronic devices,” Burtwistle said.
First Student said students should pay attention, listen and look both ways before stepping on or off the bus or crossing the street.
In an effort to curb the distracted walking problem, AISD has posted signs indicating that cell phone use is prohibited at all of the district’s campuses.