State approves new policy for school bus safety

By: By Chase Jordan -

By Chase Jordan

Local bus drivers are going have to follow new policies regarding safety. bus drivers are going have to follow new policies regarding safety.

Under a new safety policy, school bus riders throughout Sampson County will have to pay more attention to their driver before crossing the street.

The North Carolina State Board of Education changed a busing policy which will require bus drivers to use a standard hand signal to tell a student when it’s safe to cross the street.

According to a news release from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI), five students in the state were injured by motorist passing stopped school buses during the 2014-2015 school year. It’s one of the reasons for the change. The decision was made during a conference call meeting on Thursday, July 9.

Dr. Stuart Blount, superintendent of Clinton City Schools, approved of the policy.

“I think anything that we can do help ensure the safety of our bus riders is important,” Blount said.

Unfortunately, he said, motorists passing stopped school buses are more of a problem than expected. Therefore, anything done internally to improve safety as they cross the road is helpful.

“We urge motorist to pay attention when they see school buses and to have an extra eye out when the buses stop,” Blount said.

NCDPI’s Transportation Services research shows that most school-bus related injuries and fatalities come from drivers who ignore the school bus sign. Derek Graham, section chief of NCDPI School Transportation Services, said the department has more than 15 years of data showing that more than 3,000 cars per day are not going to stop.

“If we’ve got that information, then we know public awareness alone can’t be enough to reverse this behavior, especially with more distractions out there on the road,” Graham said. “The revised policy represents a more proactive approach to what bus drivers and students can do to stay safe even when other motorists don’t adhere to the law.”

Using national procedures, school bus safety standards and other practices throughout the United States, the revised policy will require drivers to use a standard hand signal that tells students a roadway is safe. The hand signal has three steps. First, the driver holds up his or her palm facing the student until it is safe to cross. Second, the driver gives a “thumbs up” to the students. For the third step, the driver points with his or her index finger the direction in which the child should proceed across the street. The purpose is to empower the driver and to force students to consciously cross by looking at their bus driver, before they walk through the street.

DPI officials said sections of the revised policy was piloted in Washington County in April by its transportation director, Wesley Strokes. Drivers were trained in the new procedure during spring break and used it the following Monday. After the training, the Washington County drivers discussed the new policy, which was followed up by homeroom class teachers explaining the new hand signals to the students.

“When this new system was announced, I was anxious for Washington County to try it because I believe that it’s a safer system,” said Stokes. “After our training, I followed the buses to see how it went, and it worked immediately. Even though the kids hadn’t been trained yet, when they saw the hand signal, I saw them stop right in their tracks and wait until the student transporter signaled to cross.”

The state’s policy requires safety training for students twice a year and the revision requires training in each school system to be documented and provided to students. That applies to those who are not riding the bus as well. State officials will provide basic instruction points for the training as well as guidance on how to properly implement the bus driver’s crossing signal requirement.

The policy becomes effective Jan. 1, 2016, but districts may start sooner of they wish. Blount said local transportation officials will examine the new policy and make changes regarding it.

Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.

Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.