With Wednesday kicking off the new school year, drivers need to be more aware of their surroundings as roads become more congested with extra cars, buses and bikes that will be making their way around the county.
A major problem which takes place every year is drivers passing buses illegally. On April 25, 2018, drivers illegally passed 726 school buses that were loading or unloading students. Some of those drivers were even passing on the right side of the bus where students are most present, according to a press release from the Kentucky Department of Education.
According to state statute 189.370, “If any school or church bus used in the transportation of children is stopped upon a highway for the purpose of receiving or discharging passengers, with the stop arm and signal lights activated, the operator of a vehicle approaching from any direction shall bring his vehicle to a stop and shall not proceed until the bus has completed receiving or discharging passengers and has been put into motion.”
The statute goes on to say it does not apply to vehicles approaching a stopped bus from the opposite direction on a highway of four or more lanes. But on a two lane road, both lanes are required to stop.
Every day in Kentucky, nearly 10,000 school buses transport more than 385,000 students, which is why it is important for drivers to be aware while on the roads, even more so as school starts up. Richmond Police Department’s Assistant Chief of Police Rodney Richardson said drivers not yielding to buses’ stop signs is one of the department's biggest complaints during the school year.
“I consider not yielding for stop signs and passing when the signs are out the same thing as disregarding an actual stop sign,” Richardson said.
Because of the amount of complaints RPD has received, Richardson said they will start using unmarked police cars that will follow bus routes randomly where these complaints are high. One of the big things they hear from bus drivers in Madison County is that people are in too much of hurry, regardless of the reason, which creates extremely dangerous situations for kids.
"They come in and we hear them. It really concerns us because of the safety of the children," Richardson said. "If I receive one complaint of that, it's one too many."
People who fail to stop when a bus has its flashing stop sign arm out often don’t realize that with enough evidence, usually bus surveillance video, drivers can still face repercussions for their actions. Richardson said law enforcement doesn’t always have to be present for something to happen. Something as simple as knowing the license plate number can help identify the owner of the vehicle, who can be charged even if they weren’t the driver at the time.
If someone witnesses another driver illegally passing a school bus, Richardson said to call 859-624-4776 and provide as much detail and information about the vehicle as one can. That can include make and model of the vehicle, its color, license plate number or a description of the driver.
Richardson said some of the ways to combat these issues is by being aware of the laws around passing buses and their consequences, but also by doing something as simple giving oneself enough time to get to where they need to be.
If one is around school zones, be mindful of pedestrians, keep distractions put away and be aware of what's happening. He also said to remain vigilant and slow down.
Richardson noted the importance of being aware of children boarding and unloading from buses, but to be aware of the students walking on the sidewalk headed to and from school.
For parents who let their children walk to school, make sure students know to be aware of their surroundings. When crossing streets, always wait for the crosswalk and look both ways for cars before entering the street. Just because it says “walk” doesn’t always mean drivers will stop at intersections. Encourage kids to walk in groups or with an adult to ensure safety when it comes to walking to or from school. For drivers, always yield to pedestrians crossing the street or getting off and on the bus.
Children riding their bikes to school should also obey traffic laws. Parents should make sure their kids are wearing the proper safety equipment, such as a helmet. Kids riding their bikes should be older, such as late middle school or high school aged.
Whether it's getting on or off the bus, walking to school or riding a bike, students should also remember to be aware of what is around them and to keep their heads up and phones down.
Reach Kaitlyn Brooks at 624-6608; follow her on Twitter @kaitlynsbrooks.