Don’t pass a stopped school bus.
We were incredulous earlier this month when police, school officials and bus drivers told Elizabethton Bureau Chief John Thompson about an uptick in the numbers of neglectful drivers illegally and dangerously passing buses as children got on or off.
Then, this week, a 10-year-old boy was struck by a car in Jonesborough while crossing the road to get on his bus.
According to the crash report, the student was hit by a car going the other direction, which knocked him into a ditch several feet away. Thankfully, his injuries were not life-threatening. Washington County Director of Schools Dr. Bill Flanary said it was a miracle he’s alive.
The woman charged with hitting him reportedly told police she didn’t see him or the stopped bus on the road that morning.
So, what more could school buses do to let people know to stop?
There are more than a dozen flashing lights on the front, back, top and sides of each bright yellow, 45-foot-long bus. A red, octagonal stop sign, a standard traffic symbol in this country for more than 60 years, also with flashing lights, extends from the side of each bus when a child is boarding or leaving. They all have 8-inch-high letters, either on reflective backgrounds or lighted, front and back, clearly announcing they are, in fact, school buses.
Barring a complete failure of these numerous safety features, which is extremely unlikely, a properly stopped school bus is adequately visible.
The issue then, appears to us to be a lack of awareness, either drivers passing those buses aren’t recognizing that the large, flashing vehicle in front of them is a stopped school bus, or they aren’t cognizant of the potential consequences for illegally passing one.
Illegally passing a bus without causing injury is itself a class A misdemeanor, punishable by jail time and a fine of up to $1,000.
Police in Elizabethton are considering tailing the buses on some of the problem routes or putting officers on the buses to catch offenders in the act. The district is also installing cameras on the outside of the buses in hopes of being able to identify illegal passers and forward clear photos of them breaking the law to police.
In Jonesborough the woman accused of hitting the child was arrested and charged with reckless endangerment with serious injury or use of a deadly weapon, a felony. Had the child been killed, a very possible outcome, the charges would have been much stiffer.
Please realize that you share your morning and afternoon commutes with students. Be aware of your surroundings and actively look for stopped school buses and students crossing.
Don’t risk children’s lives because you’re late.