SCHOOL BUS SAFETY SPOTLIGHTED AS NEW SCHOOL YEAR BEGINS
For the majority of public school students, Monday is the start of a new school year and yellow school buses will once again be rolling on the state's highways and byways. Ensuring student safety remains a top priority for state and local transportation departments, and motorists in particular are asked to exercise caution when school bus stop arms are engaged and lights are flashing.
"Student safety is top priority for school bus drivers and school transportation staff," State Superintendent June Atkinson said. "We want our students to arrive at school safely and to be delivered home safely. That is why every North Carolina motorist should always remember to stop completely for the school bus's flashing red lights and extended stop arm, and to watch for students around bus stops."
Statistics show that not every motorist obeys the law where stopped school buses are concerned. For the past four years during the state's one day stop arm count, North Carolina school bus drivers reported that over 3,000 vehicles illegally passed their stopped buses on a single day. Violations most often occur from the front of the bus on two lane roads. In the most troubling cases, drivers reported (83 instances in 2013-14) that motorists passed the bus on the right side – where students are loading and unloading.
Since 1999, 13 students have been killed while boarding or exiting a school bus; and four of those deaths occurred in the 2012-13 school year alone. North Carolina law requires motorists to stop and remain stopped while the bus has its stop sign and flashing red lights engaged.
In 2011, the North Carolina Governor's Highway Safety Program funded a pilot program that placed seven external video camera systems on school buses in five school districts as a way to crack down on motorists passing stopped school buses. As of September 2013, 77 violations had been recorded and prosecuted through the court system, and no defense attorneys had challenged the video evidence.
In 2013, thanks to a $1.38 million appropriation from the North Carolina General Assembly, the program was expanded statewide enabling at least two school buses in nearly every school district to be equipped with stop arm camera systems. To date, several hundred school buses have been equipped with stop arm cameras.
North Carolina Department of Public Instruction Transportation Services Section Chief Derek Graham said, "The most dangerous part of the school bus ride is when students are boarding and exiting the bus. Once students are on the bus, it is by far the safest way for them to travel to and from school."
Motorists who pass a stopped school bus can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor. If they pass a stopped school bus and strike a person, they can be charged with a Class I felony. If that person is killed, the motorist can be charged with a Class H felony. In addition, legislation passed in 2013 (Hasani N. Wesley Students' School Bus Safety Act) imposes a minimum fine of $500, and under certain circumstances, license revocation. North Carolina state law allows photographic evidence to be used in court.
Rowan County District Attorney Brandy Cook said the camera systems that were installed on the school buses in Rowan County have proven to be extremely effective in capturing video evidence of these violations. "As a result, our office has increased the number of successful prosecutions since utilizing this additional evidence. It is our hope that the use of cameras on school buses across the state will be a deterrent for drivers and assist in ensuring the safety of our children."
Motorists obeying traffic laws pertaining to school buses is one way to ensure student safety, but parents also play an integral role. "Let's be honest, kids are often distracted while waiting for the bus or when they are exiting after a long day at school. Since we know that not all motorists stop like they are supposed to, I hope parents continue to remind their children to look both ways before stepping into the roadway. That reminder could save their children's lives," Graham said.
For the most recent county-by-county school bus stop-arm violations, visit www.ncbussafety.org and click on the "Illegal Passing" link under Highway Safety. To view videos of motorists passing stopped school buses, visit the same website and click on the Stop Arm Violation Camera link. School Bus Stop Arm Violation One-Day Counts, School Bus Stop Arm Fatalities by School Year, and School Bus Stop Arm Cameras in NC Public School Districts are available below. Questions regarding local school bus transportation should be directed to the district's transportation office.
School Bus Stop Arm Violations
School Bus Stop Arm Fatalities
Stop Arm Camera Counts by District
About the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction:
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 160 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.