How many cars in North Carolina pass a stopped school bus in a day?
On Wednesday bus drivers were counting.
And you can count on it that the number will be shocking.
At the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013, I wrote about the deadly season of bus crashes just past. It had ended with the death of an 11-year-old boy killed by an SUV – the day before school let out for Christmas.
But even as shocked as I had been by the number of bus-related crashes, I had no idea how tremendous the problem was, and continues to be.
Despite school buses’ stop signs, flashing lights and bright color, statistics indicate they are passed illegally more than 3,000 times a day in North Carolina – possibly almost 600,000 times over the course of a school year.
Once a year, the Department of Public Instruction has bus drivers count the number of vehicles that pass them with the bus’s red lights flashing and the stop arm extended. Keep in mind, that’s just one day.
That number in 2012 was 3,196.
That number in 2013 was more than 3,300.
If those numbers represent an average, it means nearly 600,000 cars illegally pass stopped school buses in a year, as the Winston-Salem Journal pointed out.
But early 2013 had an even more terrible story.
Four children had been killed by drivers who did not stop for buses, the News & Observer of Raleigh reported at the end of last April. Since 1998, 12 kids had been killed – including those four. In other words, with that single semester the death toll went 50 percent higher.
“It’s just hard to wrap my mind around that happening even as few as 12 times,” transportation services chief for DPI, Derek Graham, told the N&O. “And to have four this school year, I have no words for that.”
In the death of the 11-year-old, a minister from Forsyth County was charged with passing a stopped school bus and causing a death. It’s a felony punishable by a prison term of 4 to 25 months depending on the driver’s criminal record. This driver had no prior record, and faced five to six months, WFMY News reported. But the death of 6th-grader Hasani Wesley did have ramifications.
Because of Hasani’s death, a new law imposing more severe punishment was sponsored by two state representatives from Forsyth County: Donny Lambeth and Ed Hanes.
The WSJ reported:
Among the penalties imposed by the Hasani N. Wesley Students School Bus Safety Act:
Illegally passing a school bus can lead to a misdemeanor charge and a minimum fine of $500.
Drivers convicted three times can lose their license permanently.
Drivers who kill a student can be charged with a Class H felony, pay a minimum fine of $2,500 and lose their license for three years.
“People do it all the time,” said Rep. Hanes. “When we saw that, both of us were just astonished,” Hanes said. “So the penalties are a little more severe. That’s going to help.”
Fines and prison time may be making an impact. Perhaps public information campaigns like “Booze & Lose It” and “Click It Or Ticket” could help.
But with the numbers the annual count shows, it is obvious this grim problem is huge, and the challenge is daunting.