LUMBERTON — This week, approximately 14,000 students in the Public Schools of Robeson County will board a school bus. Even though school bus transportation is considered one of the safest forms of transportation in the nation, bus drivers still experience unsafe drivers on the road.
There were 20 school bus accidents involving Robeson County buses during the 2013-2014 school year. The majority of these accidents were rear-end collisions by motorists following too closely.
The Public Schools of Robeson County has 270 school buses on the roads. Over the next two weeks, each school will conduct bus safety training with all students across the district. Within the first 10 days of school, all grade levels are required to do bus evacuation procedures or school bus safety reports. Teachers are talking with students in each class about bus safety and conduct.
Safety training is key to assist bus drivers and help students boarding the buses. For the past four years during North Carolina’s one-day stop arm count, school bus drivers reported that more than 3,000 vehicles illegally passed stopped buses during a single day. Violations most often occur from the front of the bus on two-lane roads.
During the one-day school bus stop arm violation count in March, 27 vehicles illegally passed school buses in Robeson County. On that day, 24 motorists passed the PSRC buses from behind on the driver’s side. Three of the drivers actually passed the buses on the right side where children enter the bus.
The biggest complaint by PSRC bus drivers concerns motorists who do not pay attention and follow too closely. Throughout the school year, bus drivers tell stories of close calls where students are almost hit as drivers get too close during the bus stop. Transportation coordinators say another area for concern involves motorist confusion at bus stops when the lights are activated. Drivers are encouraged to be cautious at all times when following a school bus because buses make numerous stops. Bus drivers also experience problems on four-lane highways. Children do not cross traffic on a four-lane road. Motorists traveling in the same two lanes, as the bus must stop. Vehicles on the opposite side do not have to stop.
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. In 2013, a $1.38 million appropriation from the North Carolina General Assembly expanded the program statewide, allowing at least two school buses in nearly every school district to be equipped with stop arm camera systems. PSRC has two buses with the camera systems. The cameras automatically start to record around the bus during the passenger stop.
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, by way of the 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.