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School Bus Laws Ignored; Speeding Drivers Put Children at Risk

8:54 AM, Nov 8, 2011   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Since the start of the new school year in August, there have been increasing concerns about school buses and the number of drivers who ignore school bus traffic laws.

"You would think they just don't know they're supposed to stop," said Brooke Wall, a three-year driver for Duval County's Durham School Services.

"I think [drivers] think we're gonna stop on 95 because they try to get past us and around us really quick," she said.

At 6:30 a.m. one day, during three stops to pick up students heading to Atlantic Coast High School, traffic almost always ignored the school bus stop signs.

"I have to sit and wait maybe about 45 seconds before the traffic actually stops," Wall said.

At the next stop, the driver of a stopped vehicle took off - right through the bus's stop signs - after waiting 20 seconds for students to board the bus.

Wall said this happens a lot, adding, "sometimes it takes other vehicles' drivers to blow their horns to try to get the traffic to stop."

Illegal passers like this are clearly a major concern for children crossing the street.

"We've had incidents where they almost got hit by a car," Wall said. "Then you have to worry about getting hit from behind."

In one incident on State Route 16 last month, a car plowed into the back of a stopped school bus, leaving shaken students with minor injuries.

"They're scared to get off," another school bus driver, Keith Sproules said. "They're afraid they're going to get hit."

He said drivers need to be more alert. "I mean what if it was your child? That's what you've got to ask yourself. What if it was my child?"

Around 2 p.m. the same day on Beach Boulevard, students load the bus for the afternoon pickup. A car came to a quick stop at the first student drop-off.

"There's 2, 3, 4...," said Wall, counting the cars illegally speeding past the school bus on the second stop even though its stop signs are out.

Numerous vehicles sped up when approaching the bus's yellow light. They're supposed to signal drivers to slow down and prepare to stop as students get ready to exit.

The total for that second stop: Five vehicles flew right by the yellow alerts and four blew right through the school bus' stop signs.

It's the same story for the third drop-off. This time, seven cars fly by the yellow alerts without slowing down and two vehicles zoom right past the clearly stopped school bus.

"It happens every single day," said Wall. 

That day, in all 12 drivers seemed to ignore the yellow warning lights, and six vehicles illegally passed the school bus on just three stops.

But, according to Florida statute, officers have to see the violation themselves to do something about it.

"You observing the violation is not something we can enforce," Dewayne Richardson, a spokesman with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said. "Say we go to court, we would have to testify about why we wrote the citation."

JSO has cited more than 410 drivers over the past three years. However, it can be difficult to regulate.

"In many cases, when people see police around buses, people will not go by the bus," Richardson said. "You have to stop."  

Perhaps the most telling message is that it seems when drivers know the school bus is about to stop, they speed up and hurry to try and get passed it -- even though the law requires you to slow down.

Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami, wants to install cameras on school buses, similar to red light cameras, to catch drivers illegally passing stopped buses and ticket them.
 
If the bill passes, it'll be up to the school districts to get the cameras. If they do, a camera manufacturer would install them at their own expense, then the district would be reimbursed with money from tickets. 

MORE: Florida bill written by Braynon

What are the rules of the road regarding school buses? Here they are:

  • If there is no median and nothing separating the opposite directions of traffic, then all vehicles are required to stop in both directions once the stop signs are up.
  • If there is a median and some kind of barrier in between that is more than 5 feet, then the traffic moving on the same side as the school bus is required to stop and the opposite direction of traffic is allowed to pass.

Penalties for illegally passing can reach up to $500.

MORE: 6 Ways to Keep Kids Safe On and Off the School Bus

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