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Getting Tough to Stop Illegal Passers of School Buses

Another child was struck and killed by a motorist this week who allegedly ignored a school bus stopped in the loading and unloading zone. To say the entire issue of illegal passers is frustrating has to be the undersstatement of the century, or one of them, at least.

The 5-year-old Atlanta girl had just left her school bus and was about to cross the street when a Nissan Altima passed the school bus and hit her. The student was rushed to a local hospital, where she was later pronounced dead. News reports, at this writing anyway, said the incident was still under investigation and that charges were pending. One thing is for sure, the world has senselessly lost another young life for the benefit of saving a minute or two during some unfortunate soul’s afternoon commute.

Seemingly, is there no solution to the epidemic of motorists who fail to know state and local school bus laws? One commenter to the article posted: “Probably another idiot passing a stopped school bus. We need snipers on the bus to take these fools out!” Another wrote: “That’s the main reason why me or my Husband be [sic] at the bus stop befor and after. and why is it a 5yrs. old crossing the street by her self.”

Do the laws, themselves, share some of the blame? First off, school buses are widely considered by those in the pupil transportation industry as well as law enforcement to be rolling traffic signals. But doesn’t this very statement lead to confusion? Yes, school buses have stop arms that extend from the bus when stopped, after the amber lights are activated, which are preceded by the flashing yellow warning lights designed to inform other motorists to use caution since the bus is preparing to stop. Logic dictates, OK, yellow light equals slow down. But here, perhaps, is where things get tricky.

I’ve heard and read that sometimes drivers in certain districts, say in central California, have been admonished by either the highway patrol or their employers for sending conflicting messages to motorists. What they’re supposed to do is activate the yellow lights some 200 feet or so before getting to a stop. Only after stopping, and at the driver’s discretion as he or she scans traffic, should the amber lights and stop arm (and crossing gate) be activated, the doors opened and the child allowed to exit. (In California, it should be noted, drivers can be required to turn off the engine, secure the bus, leave their seats and help cross a child.)

But, there can be some drivers, I’ve heard, who activate the reds and stop arm too soon, when the bus is still moving, in fact. You need not imagine how other motorists react.

To be a true rolling traffic signal, should school buses also have a green light, too, indicating to motorists that they can now safely pass the school bus? That discussion is well above my pay grade, and, indeed, it might do more harm than good, especially in the light of “only” about a dozen or so children dying in the school bus danger zone at stops. But, clearly, if something can be done to save even one life, like with the seat belt issue, shouldn’t it be done?

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