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School officials stress bus safety

With an increasing number of citations going out to drivers for passing stopped school buses, Alma school and law enforcement officials are hoping to heighten bus safety awareness.

For the past six months to one year, the number of citations going out to drivers passing stopped school buses has continued to go up, Alma school officials said.

“We’ve just had an abundance of people running stopped bus signs,” said Michael Gibson, Alma director of transportation, referring to the stop sign arm that most buses deploy when stopped to load or unload kids.

Alma City Attorney Chuck Baker has been sending out at least one citation each week since the beginning of the school year, he said. That does not include violations where the driver can not be located, he said.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, riding the school bus to school is 58 percent safer for kids than traveling by teen driver and 23 percent safer than riding with an adult driver.

Yet every year, on average, 19 children die in school transportation related crashes each year, most of them pedestrians, according to the NHTSA.

“That is something that is a very dangerous thing to do, to pass a stopped school bus,” said Superintendent David Woolly.

Drivers pass stopped buses about an equal amount of time in the morning and afternoon and are of all ages and description, Gibson said.

Neither school officials nor Baker can give a reason as to the cause of the increased violations, but said they will continue to crack down on violators.

“My hope would be that we would never have to issue a citation, because we’d never have someone passing a school bus,” Baker said. “But we are going to enforce it vigorously.”

The law being enforced is Act 2128, called “Isaac’s Law” after Isaac Bryan, an elementary student in Bryant School District who was killed by a driver who illegally passed a stopped school bus while it was unloading.

Passed by Arkansas legislature in 2005, the law states that anyone operating a motor vehicle must make a complete stop before reaching a school bus that is stopped and displaying its alternating red warning lights. The driver can not attempt to pass in any direction until the school bus is in motion again the the warning lights are off.

To help catch bus safety violators, two Alma buses have front and rear facing cameras that can record license plates, Gibson said. Several other have cameras pointed at the windshield to help with identification, he said.

Alma school buses travel 25 routes each weekday, and all buses have camera surveillance inside, he said.

In addition, state law mandates bus drivers report someone passing their bus to a school district representative, and that person in turn must report it to the local prosecutor, Baker said.

Violating the law carries a fine of $215.

“The laws are basically the same throughout the United States - you don’t pass a stopped school bus that has its loading lights on,” Woolly said.

Woolly added that the intent of the law and its enforcement is solely to keep children safe.

“Just think how horrible it would be if someone hit a child while passing a stopped school bus,” Woolly said.

Gibson and Baker both said drivers need to pay attention to yellow flashing lights on the bus, which are a warning that the bus driver is preparing to stop.

The optimum times for drivers to be on the lookout for Alma school buses is 6:30-8:15 a.m. and 3:20-5 p.m., Gibson said.

Other safety tips for drivers include taking extra time for their estimated morning drive, being patient and being more aware.

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