In just one day in 2015, 18 drivers disobeyed state laws and the blinking lights of stop arms on local school buses.
Compared to the hundreds of buses transporting students throughout Sampson County, it’s a small amount, but for school and law enforcement officials it’s too many.
“There’s been too many tragedies,” said Dr. Eric Bracy, superintendent of Sampson County Schools, while discussing the importance of being vigilant when it comes to student’s safety. “Nothing breaks your heart more than to hear about a school bus tragedy. We just need to slow down, be careful and watch our surroundings.”
Dr. Stuart Blount, superintendent of Clinton City Schools, feels the same way.
“A child getting on or off a school bus is something that should never happen if folks are paying attention,” Blount said.
To spread awareness, authorities are notifying the public about the importance of bus safety during National School Bus Safety Week and Operation Stop Arm, an initiative of the North Carolina Highway Patrol. According to a news release, troopers will be “aggressively enforcing stop arm violations and other traffic violations in and around school zones.” The operation began Monday and will continue through Friday. The purpose is to decrease violations and reduce accidents.
A one-day report from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction showed that North Carolina bus drivers witnessed thousands of vehicles illegally passing stopped buses. To help deter the problem, troopers across the state will be working in school zones and will follow buses. During the process, troopers will be driving marked and unmarked patrol cars.
“We must ensure our children’s safety as they travel to and from school,” said Colonel Bill Grey, commander of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol in a news release. “A child’s life should never be put in danger just to save a minute or two during a daily commute. That’s why we’re going to make sure people know the law as well as the consequences of breaking it.”
First Sgt. Timothy Daniels, of the local Highway Patrol, noted that they are stepping up patrols and troopers are looking out for law breakers.
“We try to do it throughout the year,” Daniels said, “not just one week.”
A lot of buses are equipped with cameras, just in case motorists pass stopped buses.
“That’s another set of eyes for us,” he said regarding technology equipment.
Blount, superintendent of Clinton City Schools, also noted that the importance of safety is stressed during different points in the year, such as the beginning of the school.
“This is a great time to reemphasize the importance of school bus safety and paying attention on the roads, especially in the early mornings,” Blount said regarding the change in Daylight Savings time. “It’s going to be darker in the mornings, so we need to make sure we’re paying close attention during those hours and also during the school day.”
Bracy said the school transportation department does a good job transporting students every day and added that safety is always their top priority.
“It’s a difficult job, but it’s an rewarding job,” Bracy said.”It’s an important role they play each and every day. They are the first representatives from the school system that our families see. I’m proud of our bus drivers and I think they do a great job.”
According to the news release from state officials, Passing a stopped school bus is a Class 1 misdemeanor. If convicted, a person will receive five driving points on their driver’s license and is subject to a minimum fine of $500. Passing a stopped school bus is a Class I Felony if the driver strikes an individual and carries a minimum fine of $1,250. Should the violation result in a death, the violation would be a Class H Felony and a minimum fine of $2,500.
Herb Sanderson, director of transportation for Sampson County Schools, said complaints regarding violators are usually submitted to Highway Patrol officials by bus drivers.
“We work hand in hand with the Highway Patrol,” Sanderson said. “They keep a watchful eye for school buses and school children. All in all, it’s a great team effort.”
For more information about school bus safety and illegal passing please visit the Department of Public Instruction’s school bus safety web site at http://www.ncbussafety.org/.
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.