Motorists Advised to Stop for School Buses

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, told WJLE Monday that 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. “The amber lights are supposed to come on two hundred feet before the bus stops and the red lights are to come on at the bus stop itself,” he said.
And the problem is not just on the highways according to Sprague. “This happens also at our schools. Each school has a designated area, car line, or car pickup and drop off line. I still have people (motorists) who want to pull up in the designated bus load and unload zones at the schools to unload their children where the designated line has been set up in a certain area at each school,” said Sprague.
Bus drivers are trained to keep a watchful eye out for the children and Sprague says they do a good job. ” I train my drivers to watch the danger zones, which are ten feet from the front of the bus, ten feet down each side, ten feet out, and ten feet from the rear. When the bus stops and we’re loading or unloading students, the driver is to monitor his mirrors to check these zones. He is also watching the children because we must keep accountability of them before we drive away. We go over this every year at in-service. Our drivers are trained to watch for the children, to give them a hand motion or a nod before they cross the road to go home or before they cross the road to get on the bus. We make sure all traffic is stopped before we allow that student to step out in the roadway or in front of the bus,” said Sprague.
Highway 70 in Smithville is of particular concern. “It is a four lane highway with a driveable median but traffic in all four lanes have to stop. When that bus driver deploys his stop sign and red lights, all four lanes of traffic must stop. That’s state law,” said Sprague.
The penalty for passing a stopped school bus is a class-A misdemeanor and that penalty is actually from $250 up to $1,000. “I have been in contact with our local law enforcement and state law enforcement on these issues and I have been getting assistance from them (on enforcement). Right now the only thing we can do is make a report and send it to the state. The state, in turn, sends a letter to whoever the violator is stating that the stop arm laws have been violated on a certain date, time, and location,” Sprague continued.
Unless motorists heed the warning, Sprague is concerned that accidents will occur that could injure or kill someone. “I just want people to stop and think. This could be a child’s life that you (motorist) are taking a chance on. Statistics show that 85% of the fatalities on a school bus happen at the bus stop. Not on the bus but at the bus stop. When you’re getting ready to go to work, if you know you’re going to be behind a bus either leave a little early or change your route. Always think ahead” said Sprague.
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.

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