Bus stop safety depends on all of us

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

In a cruel twist of fate, the tragedy on Tuesday, Oct. 30 of the death of three school-age Rochester siblings who were crossing the road to get to their school bus, which had its safety lights activated and stop-arm extended, happened just one week after the start of National School Bus Safety Week, Oct 22-28.

Two days after the Rochester incident made the headlines, a nine-year-old boy was fatally struck while crossing a road to board a school bus in Marietta, Miss.

The same day, in Tallahassee, Florida, a kindergarten student was injured while crossing a road to board his school bus, which had safety lights activated and stop-arm extended.

The next day, Friday, Nov. 2, a seven-year-old Pennsylvania boy was found dead at his bus stop by the bus driver. Evidence at the scene indicated the child had been struck by a slow-moving vehicle. In an interview conducted by police, the driver in the child’s fatality said she was unaware she had struck the child.

Again on Nov. 2, newspapers nationwide reported the scene in Tampa, Florida, where a driver plowed into a group of adults and children waiting for a school bus. Two adults and five children were hospitalized, some with life-threatening injuries.

The national school bus loading and unloading fatality statistics are collected every year by the Kansas State Department of Education’s (KSDE’s) School Bus Safety Unit.

During the 2017-18 school year, three of the loading and unloading fatalities (50 percent of the total) were attributed to a vehicle passing the school bus. The students were struck by the school bus in the other three incidents: one by the right front wheel and the other two by the right rear dual wheels.

In all three incidents in which the student was killed by a vehicle passing the school bus, the bus had its stop arm extended and its red lights activated at the time.

A quick internet search reveals the grim truth, the list of injuries and fatalities involving children loading, unloading and heading to meet their school bus goes on and on and on, through every state in the nation.

On Oct. 9, a driver in Solsberry was charged with the illegal passing of a stopped school bus, a misdemeanor infraction.

The driver-stated reasons and general conjecture behind the incidents are many, and include bus stops located in poorly lit areas, unsupervised children, driver inability to see the flashing lights and extended stop-arm of the bus and weather-related visibility issues. Other factors can include driver distraction, texting while driving and impaired driving.

Some detractors of Indiana’s daylight-savings program lay blame on the controversial time-change, noting the increased period of darkness in the morning as a contributing factor.

The causes and contributing causes to the nationwide problem are many, and the factors affecting school bus-stop safety are varied but the bottom line in keeping our kids safe is us. All of us.

Educating ourselves and our children about bus stop safety is crucial, said White River Valley Middle School Principal and District Transportation Director Jason Walton.

“The stop arm is activated at all bus stops as the students prepare to load,” Walton said.

“We do try to make stops so that the students load without crossing the road. The issue here is that many times they load from both sides of the road. All traffic is supposed to stop and wait for all students to load before anyone restarts their trip.”

Walton said all too often, people are in a hurry or are distracted and don’t pay attention to school buses.

“The problem is that when people are in a hurry, they will not follow the law and run the stop arm. Kids are hurt and killed each year across the country when drivers do not pay attention to this important safety law. We have had close calls but we are constantly making adjustments to make the stop as safe as possible for our kids. I am fortunate to have the cooperation of the Worthington Police Department that actually follows our buses to ensure the safety of our children and to enforce the law regarding bus stops. Many drivers don’t realize that a violation of the stop arm of a bus that is loading children is a class B misdemeanor.”

The laws in Indiana regarding stopping for school buses are clear.

• In all instances, motorists are required to stop when approaching a school bus that is stopped with flashing red lights activated and stop arm extended. This includes approaching from any direction and on multiple lane highways.

• On multi-lane roadways with no barrier between lanes, all motorists must stop when the school bus red flashing lights are activated and the stop arm is extended,

• On multi-lane roadways with a grassy barrier and/or concrete barrier, when the school bus stops, red flashing lights are activated and stop arm is extended, only vehicles behind the bus MUST stop. Vehicles that are approaching from the opposite side are NOT required to stop.

The language of the Indiana statute is clear: “(b) A person who operates a vehicle and who recklessly passes a school bus stopped on a roadway when the arm signal device specified in IC 9-21-12-13 is in the device’s extended position commits a Class B misdemeanor.  However, the offense is a Class A misdemeanor if it causes bodily injury to a person.”

Violating school bus stop arms is a Class A infraction and is punishable by a fine up to $10,000.

Most importantly, the safety of all children, our children, is at stake.

See a bus, prepare to stop. It’s that simple.