To the Editor,
As we enter the second nine weeks of a new school year, I want to draw everyone’s attention to the importance of keeping our children safe. When we are on the roads during morning or afternoon school bus times, and when student drivers are on the road, let’s all be extra cautious and look out for those big yellow school buses. We also want to make sure that around our schools and bus stops we are all careful to keep our students safe.
The Avery County Schools operates 30 buses, traveling over 2,500 miles per day, using over 250 gallons of fuel and transporting over 1,000 students. According to the NC Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI), the school bus is the safest way for students to travel to and from school.
NCDPI Transportation Services Section Chief Derek Graham said. “That a bus is ‘built like a tank’ and offers unmatched protection to school bus riders.” In North Carolina, over 700,000 public school students ride in 14,000 yellow buses each day.
NCDPI School Support Division Director Ben Matthews said the benefits of school bus transportation are not limited to safety. As more students ride the school bus, the environmental impacts are significant. “Traffic congestion and pollution can be reduced, not to mention the fuel savings for family cars and budgets,” Matthews said.
A huge issue across our state and country are vehicles that pass stopped school buses that have their stop signs out. The state of North Carolina has provided funding for every school system to have at least two buses equipped with multiple cameras designed to take video of any vehicle that passes a stopped school bus. Here are just a few statistics and some information about vehicles running stopped school buses around the state:
In 2011, the North Carolina Governor’s Highway Safety Program funded a pilot program to implement seven external video camera systems on school buses in five districts to crack down on motorists passing stopped school buses. In 2013, the North Carolina General Assembly appropriated funds to expand this program statewide. Thanks to this program, there are now at least two school buses equipped with a stoparm camera system operating in nearly every school district in the state.
In light of an increase in distracted driving in recent years, it is very important, particularly at the beginning of the school year, to continue to caution all motorists to pay attention – especially around school buses. Their actions can either help protect children or cause them serious harm.
During a one-day count in 2012, North Carolina school bus drivers witnessed 3,196 vehicles illegally passing stopped school buses at 2,299 bus stops. These violations occurred while the buses were stopped, stoparm extended with flashing red lights, and children were in the process of embarking or disembarking buses. These one-day school stoparm violation reports have been collected by North Carolina public schools since 1999 and they reveal a persistent problem which exposes school children to danger at bus stops. So far this year in Avery County, 20 vehicles have passed stopped school buses.
Statewide Stop Arm Statistics/Information
Since 1998-99, 13 students have died as a result of motorists failing to stop for a school bus stoparm. Four students died in the 2012-13 school year.
The number of vehicles illegally passing school bus stop arms in North Carolina has been consistently averaging more than 3,000 per day. (Data are reported by school bus drivers during an annual one-day statewide count coordinated by the Department of Public Instruction.)
Fines for illegally passing stopped school buses begin at $500. Any person who causes the injury or death of a child by passing a stopped school bus may be charged with a felony.
Automatic cameras and video recording systems can be used to detect and prosecute those who pass a stopped school bus.
More than 800,000 of North Carolina’s 1.5 million public school students ride one of 13,400 school buses to and from school each day.
Part of the Solution and Legislative Action
In the last ten years, North Carolina legislatures have passed successive bills that increased penalties and closed loopholes on school stoparm violations. In 2009, House Bill 440 (Nicholas Adkins School Bus Safety Act in memory of the 16 year old student killed when a driver did not stop for a stopped school bus), added one critical provision to an existing law – allowing the use of automated camera and video recording systems to detect and prosecute violators.
House Bill 440 opened up an opportunity to use video technology to capture illegal passing events, vehicle makes, models, license numbers, and most importantly, images of the offending drivers. These are all required elements in order to seek stoparm violation prosecution in North Carolina. The technology to capture the passing event and vehicle information can be retooled using the traditional onboard school bus camera system. However, these camera systems have often failed to capture the offending driver’s image.
In 2011, with funding from the North Carolina Governors Highway Safety Program, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and the Institute for Transportation Research and Education at NC State University, issued a Request for Proposal for a dedicated stoparm violation camera system capable of capturing the passing event, vehicle information, and violator’s images.
In the summer of 2011, the first camera system built by Fortress Mobile of Charlotte, NC was installed on buses in Iredell County. In the following months, additional camera systems were installed in Carteret, Rowan, Stoke, and Wake counties. The stoparm violation camera system consists of multiple high resolution video cameras that are calibrated and mounted at strategic locations outside the bus
These exterior and interior video cameras are recording continuously during a bus route. The recording system captures the following bus activities: speed, braking, deployment of amber warning lights and deployment of stoparm
Here are some tips to ensure safety for our students:
Walking to the Bus Stop
Always walk on the sidewalk to the bus stop; never run. If there is no sidewalk, walk on the left facing traffic.
Arrive at the bus stop five minutes early and wait quietly in a safe place well away from the road. Do not run and play while waiting.
Getting On and Off the Bus
Enter the bus in a line with younger students in front. Hold the handrail while going up and down the stairs.
Go directly to a seat. Remain seated and face forward during the ride.
Riding the Bus
Speak quietly and remain silent when a bus comes to a railroad crossing.
Never throw things on the bus or out the windows. Keep the aisles clear at all times. Feet should be directly in front of you and book-bags should be kept on your lap.
Never play with the emergency exits. Do not block the aisle or emergency exits. If there is an emergency, listen to the driver and follow instructions.
Hands should be kept to yourself at all times.
Exiting the Bus
If items are left on the bus, never return to the bus to get it. The driver may not see you come back, causing you danger. Make sure that drawstrings and other loose objects are secure before getting off the bus.
Respect the “Danger Zone” which surrounds all sides of the bus. The “Danger Zone” is ten feet wide on all sides of the bus. Always remain 10 steps away from the bus to be out of the “Danger Zone” for driver visibility.
Cross the street in front of the bus. Never go behind the bus. If you drop something near the bus, leave it until you can speak with the bus driver.
Never speak to strangers at the bus stop or get into the car with a stranger. Always go straight home and tell you parents if a stranger approaches.
The following are reminders to other drivers as a school bus approaches:
Two-lane road or two lane road with a center turning lane: For passenger pick up, all traffic from both directions must stop.
Four-lane road without a median separation: For passenger pick up, all traffic from both directions must stop.
On a divided highway of four lanes or more with a median separation: For passenger pick up, only traffic following the bus must stop.
On a roadway of four lanes or more with a center turning lane: For passenger pick up, only traffic following the bus must stop.
All motorists in North Carolina must stop for and may not pass a stopped school bus designated for receiving or discharging passengers. (GS 20-217)
I want to personally thank each driver, mechanic and the transportation team for their hard work and commitment to schools. As a community, please join me in thanking this group of great professionals as they serve our students.
Avery County Schools Superintendent