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School bus passing violations take 50-percent leap in Forsyth Co., N.C.

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Some of the results are back. They’re really bad.

Last week I wrote about the Department of Public Instruction’s program of tracking school bus passing violations. One day, each year, bus drivers across North Carolina count the number of vehicles that pass them with the bus’s red lights flashing and the stop arm extended.

In the 2013 one-day count, more than 3,300 vehicles illegally passed school buses statewide. I found that number to be so astonishing as to be almost unbelievable – far, far worse than I would have guessed. But over time, the numbers tell the same story. In 2012 the number was 3,196.

wide bus sign

Image / Egerton Law

Even given the flashing lights, signs, and bright colors, drivers need to take on a heightened sense of caution when approaching a school bus.

 

            The state began collecting the information on illegal bus passing 17 years ago. But awareness of the issue is not improving. As Derek Graham, section chief for DPI transportation services told the Winston-Salem Journal: “The numbers have been pretty consistent for quite a few years now.”

I don’t generally consider myself a pessimist, but after learning about the count and its trends, I expected the 2014 numbers to be worse.

And again, I was astonished.

In 2013 in Forsyth County, 91 vehicles illegally passed school buses. In 2014, the number was 139, the WSJ reported

Almost 53 percent more.

If that is an indication of drivers’ behavior across the state, it’s … well, it’s hard to find the right word. “Chilling” might fit – frightening enough to leave you numb.

I have to think that Forsyth County’s number is an anomaly – surely violations can’t be up that much statewide. But I’m convinced that the numbers will be up. Perhaps significantly.

(According to DPI, numbers are being counted as they come in, with a deadline of April 11. About 25 school systems have reported so far.)

As I‘ve said often, buses are big. Buses are bright orange/yellow. They have stop signs and stop arms and flashing lights. How can driver miss or ignore the fact they should stop for a bus?

But most of all, buses have kids.

As Graham stated clearly: “Motorists should not be extra careful around school buses because they might get caught. They should be extra careful around school buses because that’s where kids are.”

bus mirror

But the problem is getting worse, not better. What we need are solutions.

One took place Thursday, April 3, in New York. In a statewide crackdown, police watched as buses picked up and dropped off kids. Some targeted bus routes that have a history of illegal passing complaints. Police watched from both marked and unmarked cars.

Another is under way in here North Carolina. The Hasani N. Wesley Students School Bus Safety Act* encourages local school boards to use proceeds from fines for bus violations to buy automated camera and video recording systems to install on buses to catch violators. The systems can record license plate numbers and video of the violator’s vehicle.

 

Image / Egerton Law

Bus drivers have tools to help them see their passengers.

Other drivers must use a heightened sense

 of alertness to see them as well.

 

And the General Assembly appropriated $600,000 this year and next for camera systems. Each school district can purchase two systems each year. About 36 districts in the state already have some buses outfitted with cameras.

We can hope that a public relations campaign similar to “Booze & Lose It” and “Click It Or Ticket” might make a difference. But it seem a little much to expect, given that common sense should have gotten the concept of being careful around buses across already.

 

* The bill was named for a Forsyth County 11-year-old killed while heading for his school bus in 2012. It increased penalties for drivers who illegally pass stopped buses. The driver charged in the death, Billy Roger Bailey, will stand trial starting the week of April 14.

Related stories:

2012’s deadly season of school bus accidents

After a deadly season, a prayer for the new school year

School bus safety law named for Forsyth County student