Stop for the Bus

John Willoughby
ECB Publishing, Inc.

In recent weeks, multiple reports of children being struck by vehicles while walking to get onto the bus have surfaced on the news nationally … some children have recovered while, unfortunately, several children have been killed by the impact.
On Tuesday, Oct. 30, three siblings: six-year-old twins and their nine-year-old sister, were killed in Indiana after being hit by a vehicle as the children were crossing a two-lane highway to board their school bus. Another child's death occurred on Wednesday, Oct. 31, while the nine-year-old was struck by a vehicle as he was crossing the road to board the school bus. Additionally, on Thursday, Nov. 1, five children and two adults were waiting for the school bus when they were struck by an oncoming vehicle. The children ranged in age from six to ten years old and two received serious injuries. The adults, ages 31 and 32, received non-life threatening injuries.
More locally, on Wednesday, Oct. 31, a kindergarten student in Tallahassee was struck and injured while crossing the street, preparing to board the school bus. The 19-year-old unidentified driver was given two citations.
Jefferson County is in an almost unique situation given its limited control over its bus fleet, as it contracts the service, via Jefferson Somerset, to Student District Service Inc. (SDS), a Tallahassee-based transportation company.
Emails to Jefferson County School District Superintendent Marianne Arbulu and SDS were still unanswered as of print time. A recent national study, however, speaks to the issue and offers a measure of consolation for Jefferson County.
According to the study, 57 million kids nationwide daily walk, bike, take the bus or get a ride to school during the school year -- a necessary journey that can sometimes turn dangerous.
Fortunately, the School Safety Snapshot Study found that school children in Jefferson County were among the safest in the nation when it came to the risk of a traffic injury or fatality. This despite Florida's overall poor ranking and indications that drivers generally are not improving their driving behavior.
Jefferson County rated an A- when it came to road safety, the study found, whereas Florida overall received an F, ranking 44 of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia.
To come up with its findings, data scientists analyzed driver behavior around more than 125,000 elementary, middle and high schools around the country, representing 90-percent of all U.S. Schools.
All told, the data scientists looked at risky events that occurred within a quarter mile of 125,703 schools in 3,094 counties across the country and documented 4.6-billion unsafe driving events.
The methodology entailed looking at the number of trips that crossed through each school area and the number of events that occurred within each of those areas, then rating the safety based on the number of events within the school area per trip.
The more unsafe driving events that the study documented per trip (such as hard braking, phone fiddling, etc.), the lower the grade that the school received,
with the state's score the aggregate of its counties' scores.
Not surprisingly, the study found that nationwide, schools in rural areas tended to have safer drivers than in cities. Schools near busy roads like arterials, state highways and interstates, however, were plagued by dangerous traffic, even in rural areas. Indeed, nine of the 10 schools with the most dangerous traffic in the country were school adjacent to heavily-travelled roads in rural areas.
Generally, however, the study found that cities, given their density and higher competition for road space, saw more risky driver behavior than rural areas.
The type of poor driver behavior that the study found lead to dangerous traffic situation included distracted driving, phone use while driving (including texting or emailing), speeding, rapid acceleration and hard braking.
According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, motorists are required to stop when approaching a school bus that is stopped with its red lights flashing and “STOP” arms extended. Respectively, on two-lane roads, vehicles traveling in both directions must stop. On multi-lane paved-across roads, vehicles traveling in both directions must stop. For a divided highway, with an unpaved space of five feet plus or raised median and/or physical barrier, vehicles behind the bus must stop. However, vehicles traveling in the opposite direction must proceed with caution.
Penalties for passing a stopped school bus include moving violation subject to citation, the requirement to complete a basic Driver Improvement Course upon conviction, four points on your driver license and a minimum fine of $165. If a vehicle passes on the side where children enter and exit, the driver will receive a minimum fine of $265.
Passing a stopped school bus and causing serious bodily injury or death can result in stiffer penalties, such as serving 120 community service hours in a trauma center or hospital, six points on your driver license, suspension of license for a minimum of one year, a $1,500 fine and the requirement to participate in a victim's impact panel session, or if such a panel does not exist, a Driver's Highway Safety and Motor Vehicle approved driver improvement course.
Such penalties for causing serious bodily injury or death are a result of the Cameron Mayhew Act, which took effect on July 1, 2017, in honor of Mayhew, who was killed by a motorist who failed to stop as he was walking toward a stopped school bus in 2016.
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles provides tips that can save the lives of parents and children who are waiting roadside for an oncoming school bus:
At bus stops, children should wait in a safe place away from the road. Never sit on the roadway or curb while waiting for your bus.
Make sure your children know their bus driver's name and bus number. Tell children to never speak to strangers at the bus stop or get into the car with a stranger. If a stranger tries to talk to them or pick them up, tell children to inform a parent, bus driver or teacher at school.
Children should look both ways before crossing the street – look left, right and left again. Tell them to make eye contact to make sure the bus driver can see them as they cross the street.
Additionally, motorists should always be aware of their surroundings, especially when they see children near schools, bus stops, school buses and in school parking lots.
For more information about school bus safety, log onto flhsmv.gov.