With schools across DeKalb County entering their sixth week of school, students are settling into a routine, school buses are back on the roads and drivers are asked to exercise caution.
According to the Alabama Department of Transportation, there is an established uniform penalty statewide for motorists who illegally pass stopped buses, including school or church buses on the road.
DeKalb County Transportation Supervisor Keith Atchley said drivers are required to stop when meeting or following a school bus stopped on a two-lane road or four to a six-lane undivided highway. Drivers aren’t required to stop on a divided highway with four or more lanes if two of the lanes allow traffic to flow in the other direction.
“One of the best things parents can do is have conversations with their children about school bus safety,” Atchley said.
Motorists are asked to pay special attention as students load and unload from school buses between the hours of 6:00 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
According to the American School Bus Council, more school-age pedestrians are killed from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. than any other time of day. One-third of those children are between five and seven years old.
Atchley said, as a motorist, please be aware that students are not always paying attention and that they rely on you to be cautious around school buses.
“In today’s world, drivers are not the only ones distracted. Sometimes students come to the bus stop with hoods on which restrict vision and earbuds in, which make it difficult to hear traffic,” said Atchley.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that nearly two-thirds of school bus-related fatalities of school-age children occur outside of the school bus. 66% of fatally injured students in a school bus-related accident are struck by vehicles once they have exited or before they have loaded the bus.
The American School Bus Council estimated that over 10 million drivers illegally pass school buses every year.
In addition to safety concerns, there are financial ones too. Violators of laws regarding driving near school uses can face hefty fines.
The Alabama Code Title 32. Motor Vehicles and Traffic fines are as follow:
• First Offense for illegally passing a stopped bus is $150 to $300 for first offense.
• Second offense could result in a fine of $300 to $500 and suspension of driver's license for 30 days and 100 hours of community service.
• Third offense could result in fine of up to $1,000, license suspension of 90 days and 200 hours of community service.
• Fourth offense is a Class C felony, punishable by a fine of up to $3,000 and a one-year license suspension.
Atchley reminds drivers to be aware of the amber warning lights, red stop lights and stop signs on school buses.
As a driver gets within 300 feet of a stop, the amber warning lights are activated, signaling drivers to slow down. Once the red lights and stop signs are activated, motorists are required to stop. Only on highways divided by a concrete or grass median can on-coming traffic proceed.
“The DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office, along with court officials, have been great partners in issuing citations to drivers who run school bus stop signs,” said Atchley.
Atchley said NHTSA report, students are about 70 times more likely to arrive at school safely when taking a school bus instead of traveling by car because of great drivers, safety features and cautious motorists working together, school bus transportation is the safest option available for students.