It’s almost ... almost ... autumn in Virginia. Thoughts turn to fall festivals and craft shows, drives on the Blue Ridge Parkway to see the fall foliage, being able to sleep at night without the AC blasting and apple picking at local orchards.
Perhaps the most important thing we should have on our minds, though, is that schools across the region are open which means there are hundreds, if not thousands, of school buses on the highways. Safety of those children should be foremost for drivers.
Buses are out early in the mornings, sometimes even before dawn, picking up children, and in the afternoons, they’re out again taking them home. Whenever we see one of those big, yellow buses, we need to ratchet up our attention levels and be mindful of their precious cargo.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that, nationwide, close to 450,000 public school buses are on the highways, taking 23.5 million kids to and from school each day during the academic year.
According to national traffic safety data, between August 2018 and March 2019, 12 children nationwide were killed and 47 injured getting on or off school buses — and that was when stop-arms were extended, meaning drivers must come to a complete stop. Virginia laws are even stricter, requiring drivers to come to a complete stop if a bus is just flashing its red lights, and that’s whether you’re on a public highway, a private road or a school driveway. Even then, Virginia law states drivers cannot start moving until all children are clear and the bus starts moving again. The only exception is if you are on a divided highway with either a median or physical barrier and you’re traveling in the opposite direction from the bus.
If you’re caught breaking the law, the price will be heavy indeed. Passing or not stopping for a stopped bus could result in a base fine of $250, possibly rising to $600, not to mention points on your driving record. Violations could also be ticketed as reckless driving which carries a fine of $2,500.
Virginia is also one of 22 states that allow for stop-arm cameras on school buses, meaning that if you blow past a stopped bus, more than likely you’ll be getting a special delivery ticket sooner rather than later.
Whenever you’re around a school bus, you, as a driver, need to be on heightened alert. Kids, especially the younger ones, act before thinking and have little experience around traffic. They assume drivers have seen them and will be stopping to let them cross. Sometimes, they’ll drop a book and absentmindedly run back to grab it. And for pete’s sake, get off your cell phone and quit texting or reading emails — that’s good advice any time you’re driving, but even more important when you’re around a school bus.
Please, folks, just be careful. Pay attention. Going back to school should be a happy time for kids; don’t turn it into a tragedy.