Illegal school bus passing going down

McDONOUGH — Officials are reporting fewer cases in which drivers are passing school buses illegally. It is a downward trend over the past three years.

Each school day across Georgia, thousands of drivers illegally pass school buses when a stop arm is out, endangering children as they board and unload the buses.

Data collected voluntarily by districts statewide during a one-day survey in the spring revealed that 6,807 vehicles illegally passed stopped school buses, down from 7,349 last year and 8,102 in 2011.

However, officials warn the numbers are likely higher than report because not all 178 school districts in Georgia with bus programs reported data. This year’s data was collected April 25 by 130 Georgia districts who participated in the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services survey.

State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge said student safety should be a priority for all in the community and not just for parents and schools.

“I am glad to see the numbers are declining, but more than 6,000 illegal passes of buses with stop arms down is very alarming,” said Barge. “I ask the public to please pay close attention to school buses and watch for their stop signals.”

The state reported that 13 Georgia students have died when they were struck by motorists at the school bus stop since 1995.

One of the fatal accidents involved a local youth. An 11-year-old boy was struck by a car near his Locust Grove home in April 2012. He was catching the bus on the way to school.

As students return to school in the Southern Crescent this month, student transportation have continued to urge motorists to be extra cautious, particularly during peak times when school buses are likeliest to be on the road — weekdays between 6:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. and from 2:30 p.m. until 5 p.m.

Henry County Schools Transportation Director Cliff Shearouse said his department has increased its efforts to inform the public about bus stop safety.

“The most dangerous part of this operation is loading and unloading a school bus,” said Shearouse.

Harold Walker is the transportation director for Clayton County Public Schools. He said his department is keeping a keen eye on those who illegally pass school buses but he added that residents have a role to play in keeping students safe.

“Please be mindful when children are catching the bus,” Walker said. “Watch them as they cross the street. And don’t run school bus stop arms.”

The Georgia Department of Education and the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety urge motorists to use caution when approaching a school bus and to brush up on the law regarding passing a bus.

The law states vehicles traveling in both directions must stop when a school bus activates its stop-arm on a two-lane road or a multi-lane road with no median or barrier.

Vehicles traveling in the same direction as a school bus must always stop, but motorists traveling in the opposite direction can proceed with caution when there is an unpaved median or concrete barrier separating the opposing lanes.

GOHS Executive Director Harris Blackwood said the reduction in violations is an indication more Georgians are learning and obeying the stop arm law.

“However, this is still too many and we must continue to educate the public in order to better protect our students,” said Harris.