It seems that only yesterday we were grumbling about the cold weather of a seemingly endless winter.
Now the summer has flown by, and it’s time for the kids to head back to school. And time for the school buses to hit the road.
And unfortunately, time that other vehicles can hit kids and school buses.
North Carolina School Superintendent June Atkinson held a news conference Thursday, Aug. 21, to address school bus safety as the new school year begins. The Governor’s Highway Safety Program Assistant Director, and representatives of the Highway Patrol, according to a news release from the state superintendent, joined her.
Among the problems our schools are facing in getting students to and from school is the astonishing number of drivers who pass stopped buses illegally.
Once a year, the N.C. 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.
The N.C. school administration focused on bus safety as school began.
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.
The death toll has been getting worse. Since the 1998-99 school year, 13 students have been killed. But in the last two school years alone, five have been killed. One death resulted in the Hasani N. Wesley Students School Bus Safety Act. It encourages local school boards to use proceeds from fines for bus violations to buy automated camera and video recording systems to install on buses to catch violators.
Most school districts now have only two cameras installed on school buses.
Among the penalties imposed by the 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.
The news release from the state school superintendent points out that more than 800,000 students ride buses every school day in North Carolina.
We can only hope that more publicity and tougher penalties will make them safer.