The 2011-12 school year has started for some children around the country, and it will start for many more over the next several weeks. With school buses hitting the road, officials from school districts, bus companies and law enforcement agencies are implementing safety initiatives, and issuing tips for students, motorists and parents.
Rockingham County Schools in Eden, N.C., partnered with the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office and the North Carolina Highway Patrol to hold a press conference last week asking people to be vigilant in keeping children safe.
The issue is especially important to the school district after having witnessed one of its own students lose his life trying to board a school bus in January 2009, according to a story on GoDanRiver.com.
“I will never be able to get that image out of my mind of seeing the white sheet there and a pair of tennis shoes so far away from the body,” Rockingham County Schools Superintendent Rodney Shotwell told the news source. “That’s a sight no one should have to see. I had a busload of kids that had to wait there and see that.”
This year, Rockingham County Schools has installed nine cameras that will rotate among the buses. The cameras will be used to help catch motorists who illegally pass stopped school buses: they will be able to show the time stamp, the car’s license plate number and that the arm of the bus was out and the bus was stopped.
School bus drivers have been instructed to report vehicles that pass a stopped school bus and submit reports to the North Carolina Highway Patrol. The troopers assigned to school bus safety in Rockingham County investigate each complaint filed. Stiff penalties accompany a conviction for passing a stopped school bus in North Carolina. Motorists receive five points against their driver's license, face a $200 fine and possibly 120 days in jail.
Sheriff Sam Page told GoDanRiver.com that all law enforcement agencies will be out in force and will monitor the school zones and give tickets to motorists who violate the law.
In Tennessee, the state’s highway patrol will assist local law enforcement efforts with a “Back to School” enforcement and education campaign of their own, focusing on traffic safety in and around the school zones. State troopers will target traffic violators, specifically those who speed in school zones and pass stopped school buses, as well as raise awareness on school safety.
“We are urging motorists to exercise caution, be alert and to slow down in school zones and around school buses,” Tennessee Highway Patrol Col. Tracy Trott said. “Our state troopers will not hesitate to hand out citations, but that is not our objective. This enforcement campaign was designed to encourage everyone to practice safe driving and pedestrian habits.”
Like in North Carolina, Tennessee drivers who are found distracted, impatient and careless can expect to face stiff penalties. The speed limit is 15 miles per hour in school zones and the fine for speeding in a school zone is up to $500. Drivers can be fined no less than $250 and up to $1,000 for passing a stopped school bus.
As part of its back-to-school enforcement campaign, the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s Special Programs unit recorded public service announcements at local radio stations across the state. Sgt. Chris Richardson of the Memphis district taped the following spot for listeners of 104.1 FM in Jackson:
School bus contractor First Student is offering a safety resource for motorists, students and parents. The company has teamed up with the National Safety Council to create a back-to-school safety website.
The site features checklists and safety precautions parents can review with their children to help keep students safe while walking, riding bikes and taking the bus to and from school. In addition, key facts about teen driving, playground and backpack safety are included, as is important information on bullying signs and prevention. Public service announcements review safety rules and urge motorists to stay alert and heed the school bus signals when children are getting on and off school buses.
Finally, Wall, N.J.-based Student Transportation of America (STA) issued multiple tips for students, parents and motorists. The tips for students include: be on time for the bus and never run after or next to a school bus; and, if you must cross the street, always do so in front of the bus. Make sure the red lights are flashing and walk in front of the crossing gate arm that extends in front of the school bus.
For parents, STA recommends not parking in a bus-only zone if they are going to drop off or pick up their children at school. The contractor also recommends that parents check their children's clothing and backpack to make sure there are no loose drawstrings or long straps that could get caught in the handrail or bus door.
STA says that motorists should never pass a school bus on the right side, where children enter or exit. Motorists should also stop at least 10 feet away from a school bus that has its red lights flashing and stop arm extended.
STA also focuses on safety company-wide. Last year, the contractor implemented additional driver training program modules in 100 percent of its locations throughout the country, according to Don Weir, STA's director of passenger safety and compliance.
"Our company-wide employee safety council mandated that every bus in our fleet have a crossing gate arm, whether a state requires it or not. We have installed Child Check-Mate reminder systems in all our buses. Our new safety and compliance auditors are in the field ensuring that compliance checks are in place at every location and every driver's file and credentials are current and up to date," Weir added.