Starting Thursday, Johnson City Police Sgt. Reggie Sparks said officers will ride buses and advise other officers when drivers are observed ignoring bus stop signs.
“We take these violations very seriously, as they jeopardize the safety of our children, as well as the motoring public and pedestrians,” he said.
Local school systems’ concerns over drivers ignoring stop signs on buses were renewed once again in November after Crystal M. Buchanan, 41, 2089 Ida Sue Drive, Jonesborough, was accused of hitting a 10-year-old Washington County Schools student who was crossing the road to board a bus on Tennessee Highway 81. Buchanan was charged with reckless endangerment with serious injury or use of a deadly weapon and illegally passing a school bus.
Because of the danger of similar incidents, Sparks wants the public to know that illegally passing a bus is not treated as a simple traffic violation. It’s a Class A misdemeanor, which he said results in a fine of between $250 and $1,000.
“The state has deemed that this is so important that you would have to be cited into Sessions Court,” he said. “If you’re stopped and cited, you have to go to the Washington County Jail to get fingerprinted, processed and they will release you to show up later in Sessions Court.”
Sparks said this has been a concern for local law enforcement for a long time now.
“We’ve been talking about this for a while, but we’re finally getting everybody on board,” he said. “If we can educate the public, hopefully, they will be aware of that when they see a bus.”
Sparks said drivers on both sides of a roadway must stop for a bus that has stopped. If the bus stops on the opposite side of a highway with a barrier or median, the driver does not have to stop.
Tennessee Law 55-8-151 states:
“The driver of a vehicle upon a highway, upon meeting or overtaking from either direction any school bus that has stopped on the highway for the purpose of receiving or discharging any school children, shall stop the vehicle before reaching the school bus, and the driver shall not proceed until the school bus resumes motion or is signaled by the school bus driver to proceed or the visual signals are no longer actuated.
“The driver of a vehicle upon a highway with separate roadways need not stop upon meeting or passing a school bus that is on a different roadway or when upon a controlled-access highway and the school bus is stopped in a loading zone that is a part of or adjacent to the highway and where pedestrians are not permitted to cross the roadway.”
The issue of drivers ignoring bus stop signs is also a national problem, according to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Between 2006 and 2015, the administration said 1,313 people of all ages were killed in school-transportation related crashes. Of those, 301 were children, and 54 were occupants of school transportation vehicles.
Greg Wallace, Johnson City Schools’ supervisor of safety and mental health, said he appreciates the help of Johnson City police to make sure local students are not part of future statistics such as these.
“I believe this support will help provide two important components,” he said. “It will help enforce school bus safety laws, and it will help increase awareness on the need to pay attention to existing school bus laws. We believe both will positively impact student safety.”