While school administrators and bus drivers strive to transport students safely, drivers of other vehicles must pay attention for students to be kept safe.
Cleveland City Schools are experiencing an influx of drivers ignoring school bus stop signs and proper protocol, according to Hal Taylor, CCS director of maintenance and transportation.
“Anytime the [outside] bus lights come on, that works just like a caution light. That means you need to be prepared to stop,” Taylor said.
“As soon as the sign comes out, you need to stop. There is no time you can pass that stop sign, unless you are on a divided highway.”
Similiar issues have been noticied by Bradley County Schools bus drivers.
Sometimes when a school buslights start to flash, signaling it is preparing to stop, other drivers will go around the bus, so they will not have to stop, according to Bradley County Schools bus driver Barry Hewitt.
Traffic laws require all lanes of vehicles to stop for a school bus, even on a four-lane road.
“We try to make it where the kids don’t have to cross the road in that situation,” Hewitt said.
The only exception is a divided highway. Taylor explained a divided highway only includes roadways with a ditch or a designated divide in the middle of the two ways of traffic.
“South Lee Highway is not a divided highway, even thought it is four lanes of traffic. If a bus stops there, then all lanes must stop,” Taylor said.
A turning lane between opposite lanes of traffic does not count as a divided highway.
Taylor said the city is trying to bring attention to the issue before an accident happens.
“We have had a lot of close calls this year,” Taylor said. “We don’t want to look back and have regrets.”
According to Taylor, there have been 10 or more close calls this year. In all situations, the child’s attention was caught before crossing the road.
Bus drivers do not have control over a child’s action after they exit the bus.
Taylor and Carla King, a bus driver with the city schools for three years, agreed children do not always look both ways.
Hewitt and fellow county schools bus driver Dianne Orr said they have repeatedly spoken to their students about being careful when getting on and off the bus.
“I’ve kind of trained by kids to stand back from the road,” Orr said.
They also remind students to watch for traffic.
“When they (children) see the school bus, they take it that everything is going to stop and there they go,” Hewitt said. “Our main thing is to get them to school safe.”
Hewitt said sometimes even after a group of students have gotten on the bus, there might be one running behind so drivers still need to pay attention.
“Just because the door closes and the lights are out doesn’t mean there won’t be one (a student) running up,” Hewitt said. “Don’t move until the bus moves.”
Orr said drivers need to be aware of children who may be standing on the side of the road.
“Bus drivers are constantly looking out for the child, but kids don’t always pay attention and sometimes they just run across the road,” Taylor said.
King had two incidences of drivers ignoring the stop sign last week while dropping her students off.
“The other day a kindergartener was already off of the bus. The driver was in a [pickup] truck and was not paying attention,” King said. “I pulled the air horn and the child stopped in time, but the driver did not.”
The following day, King said another driver was distracted and missed the bus stop sign. She said she always checks the roads before a child gets off the bus as an added precaution.
“The driver finally stopped, but he was just a little in front of the bus,” King said. “I practically closed the door on the kindergartener [to keep him on the bus] while saying, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
King said the driver apologized once he stopped, but the child most likely would have been hit. Many children assume it is safe to cross the street once the bus stop sign is out.
“Some little kids just come out in the morning without looking both ways,” King said. “One little kid just runs from his house to the bus without looking both ways.”
Added King, “I wish [drivers] would pay more attention.”
Hewitt and Orr had similiar feelings.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol recently rode Bradley County Schools and Cleveland City Schools buses watching for drivers violating school bus safety traffic laws. The Cleveland Daily Banner sought similar ride-alongs with both systems. Cleveland granted the request. However, Bradley County schools denied the request because of a policy limiting those allowed on the bus to students and school personnel.
A fine for passing a school bus stop sign is $146.50, Taylor said. An additional six points is placed on the driver's license.
According to Taylor, city police officers may also write up a driver for reckless driving. The ticket fee could then move up to $2,000. If a bus driver gets the license plate number of a car that runs a stop sign, they can report it.
“When we go on these ride alongs we are looking for people not stopping for the stop sign, driving erratically near the bus,” THP Special programs Sgt. Alan Bailey said.
He said the special programs sergeants work with Tennessee State Troopers to complete the ride-alongs and have a trooper follow buses. Hewitt said no one broke any laws when the state trooper was following his bus.
Ride-alongs are not an annual event. The goal of the ride alongs is to educate bus drivers and the general public of safety concerns around school buses. In Bradley County, many of the accidents involving school buses are the other vechicle’s fault.
While more students ride the buses in the afternoon, traffic is more of an issue in the morning.
“Cause its dark and half of them aren’t paying attention. They aren’t awake yet,” Hewitt said.
In addition to paying attention for the stop sign and students, drivers of cars and other vehicles also need to give school buses space.
“We’re a big vehicle. We can’t cut sharp curves like you can in a car. We can’t stop on a dime like cars can. We need our room,” Hewitt said.
“Because we are carrying children, we are going to be slower about pulling out. When a car is speeding, they are going to pull up on us a lot faster,” Taylor said.
“One thing motorists need to be aware of is a school bus is the safest vehicle on the road. What that means is if you rear end a school bus, you are going to tear your car up immediately. School buses are built to take a hit. One way it does that is by making sure it does not give.”
He encouraged people who have suggestions or problems with the school transportation to give his department a call at 472-9576.