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NEWS RELEASES 2001-02 :: AUGUST 20, 2001


Back-to-school time is here for North Carolina public schools and several state agencies are combining efforts to get the word out on an important safety issue: the dangers of motorists' passing stopped school buses.

That message is the subject of a public awareness campaign reinforced today at a Raleigh news conference held at Wake County's Millbrook Elementary School. The campaign, sponsored jointly by the NC Department of Public Instruction, the NC Department of Transportation's Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the NC Department of Crime Control and Public Safety (CCPS) and the Governor's Highway Safety Program (GHSP), uses the theme, "The Bus Stops Here. So Should You."

Every school day in North Carolina, approximately 1,700 motorists illegally pass a stopped school bus, endangering the lives of students who are boarding or unboarding the school bus. In 1997, a special task force initiated an annual one-day count of stop-arm violations. Since then, school bus drivers have consistently counted between 1,500 and 1,900 violations on the one-day count.

The most recent count, held March 14, reported 1,744 stop-arm violations spotted from 13,062 school buses. Violations most often occurred in the afternoon (55 percent), from the front of the bus (78 percent), on two-lane roads (61 percent), by passenger cars (68 percent), and on the left side of the bus (97 percent). It is especially frightening that 3-4 percent (52-70) of the reported violations occurred on the right side of the bus, near the bus door where students are entering or leaving the bus.

North Carolina law states that a motorist approaching a stopped school bus from any direction must come to a complete stop while the bus is displaying its mechanical stop arm and flashing red stoplights. The motorist must remain stopped until the stop arm has been withdrawn, the flashing red stoplights have been turned off and the bus has moved on.

For the "The Bus Stops Here" campaign, officials distributed a 30-second television spot and released the county-by-county numbers from the March one-day count. Officials also showed videotape of school violations taken from external cameras mounted on the buses in Onslow and Forsyth Counties.

State Superintendent Mike Ward explained, "Four years ago, our agency put together the task force that coordinated the annual statewide count of this specific violation. The public schools have since conducted research funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and partnered with Alltel to air public service announcements across the state. As part of these ongoing efforts, we are taking our message to the public today to remind all drivers that it is important they stop their vehicles for stopped school buses. Each day in North Carolina, we transport 711,000 students on more than 13,000 yellow school buses. Those totals do not even include the many miles that are traveled by school activity buses. Throughout all those trips, the number one concern of our drivers and other staff is the safety of students. We need motorists to obey the law and help keep students safe."

CCPS Secretary Bryan Beatty explained that this violation - passing a stopped school bus - carries with it one of the highest penalties for drivers. "Our children are North Carolina's future. It is up to each one of us to protect them and make sure they reach school safely. That's why the penalty for violating this law is one of the harshest." The penalty includes five insurance points, which means a 90 percent increase in auto insurance rates for three years, a $200 fine and a maximum of 90 days in jail. The North Carolina Highway Patrol and other law enforcement agencies are taking extra steps to make sure people obey this law.

Troopers from the Highway Patrol, a division of CCPS, and other law enforcement officers periodically ride buses and communicate by radio to their counterparts in unmarked cars when they see any type of violation. At the direction of Highway Patrol Commander Richard Holden, troopers also are following school buses on a regular basis. During the last school year, troopers spent more than 6,115 hours monitoring 15,587 buses. They charged drivers with 3,638 violations, including 1,714 speeding; 296 stop arm violations and 172 driving without a license. The Highway Patrol program is scheduled to be featured on Dateline NBC later this fall.

DMV Commissioner Carol Howard describes the division's training program as one of the best in the nation. "DMV is responsible for training all public school bus drivers, and our training requirements are rigorous. The program is thorough and intensive, involving both classroom and roadwork," she said. Howard explained that DMV is constantly updating and improving its methods and techniques in an ongoing effort to prevent accidents.

"School bus drivers are constantly on the lookout for potentially unsafe conditions for children," said Supt. Ward, "but they can't do this alone. We appreciate the help from the Highway Patrol and other law enforcement agencies, and we need the support of all citizens to make our roads safer for children."

(Note to Media: County-by-county numbers on bus stop-arm violations from the March 14 count appear on subsequent pages. For city school system information, please contact that school system's transportation office. Also included is an executive summary of the NHTSA research project. The full report is available under Pupil Transportation Resources at For statewide information, contact Transportation Services Chief Derek Graham at the NC Department of Public Instruction, 919.807.3570.)

Local Numbers. (pdf, 118kb)

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About the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction:
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 126 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students in kindergarten through high school graduation. The agency is responsible for all aspects of the state's public school system and works under the direction of the North Carolina State Board of Education.

For more information:
NCDPI Communication and Information Division, 919.807.3450.