SCHOOL BUSES ROLL ACROSS THE STATE;
MOTORISTS URGED TO WATCH OUT FOR CHILDREN
Although some students have already begun their new school year, for most of the state's 1.4 million students, this week is the first week of school. To ensure the safety of students as they travel to and from school, motorists are strongly urged to be vigilant as school buses stop to pick up or drop off students.
The recent death of a Wake County first grader who was crossing the road after exiting her school bus carries a stark reminder for motorists to take extra precautions as they travel the roads now that schools are fully in session. In January, a 16-year-old Rockingham County student was killed while boarding his school bus.
"Every day in North Carolina over 14,000 yellow school buses transport over 775,000 students to and from school. The number one concern of school bus drivers and school transportation staff is the safety of their young passengers," State Superintendent June Atkinson said. "We need for every North Carolina motorist to exercise this same high level of vigilance to guarantee our students' safety."
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 and, beginning Dec. 1, 2009, if that person is struck and killed, the motorist can be charged with a Class H felony. Both Class I and H felonies can result in jail time.
To get an accurate picture of the seriousness of motorists' passing stopped school buses, the NCDPI's Transportation Services Section, in coordination with district transportation departments, conducts an annual one-day count of stop-arm violations. Since its inception in 1998, North Carolina school bus drivers have consistently reported that during these counts motorists illegally pass a stopped school bus around 2,000 times a day, risking the lives of public school children.
During the most recent count conducted on March 12, 2008, 2,325 stop-arm violations were reported from 13,830 school bus drivers. Violations most often occurred in the afternoon (1,309), from the front of the bus (1,706), on the left side of the bus (2,183), on two lane roads (1,372), and by passenger cars (1,611). Even worse, 104 violations occurred because motorists passed the bus on the right side - where students are loading and unloading.
North Carolina law requires motorists to stop and remain stopped while the bus has its stop sign and flashing red stoplights engaged. NCDPI Transportation Services Section Chief Derek Graham said it's disheartening that the numbers of motorists disobeying this law remains consistently high. "People need to realize that the school bus is on the road for children and we need to be especially careful when driving near that bus. I can't imagine living with the burden of hitting a child because I wasn't paying attention," Derek said. Since 1999, eight students have been killed by motorists as they were getting on or off a school bus. "The most dangerous part of the school bus ride is when students are getting on and off the bus. Once student are on the bus, it is by far the safest way for them to travel to and from school," he added.
For the most recent county-by-county school bus stop-arm violations, visit www.ncbussasfety.org and click on the "Operation Stop Arm" link. Questions regarding local school system information should be directed to the local school system's transportation office. For statewide information, please contact the NCDPI's Communications division at 919.807.3450.
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.