Sharing the road this summer; School officials urge drivers to remain cautious

Pictured, from left to right, are Chairman Randy Peppers, Vice Chairman Robert Elliott, board members Monty Darwin, Superintendent Jason Barnett, Chris Andrews and Mark Richards. 

School buses are back on the road and drivers are encouraged to exercise caution as DeKalb County Schools begin summer school programs on Monday.

DeKalb County Transportation Supervisor Keith Atchley said this summer, DeKalb County Schools will have buses running routes at almost every campus, amounting to 22 routes running mainly between 6:30 to 7:45 a.m. and between 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

“Please be cautious and stop when buses stop on undivided highways,” he said.

The American School Bus Council estimated that more than 10 million drivers illegally pass school buses every year.

A recent Illegal Passing Survey provided by the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) showed illegal passing had increased since 2018 with 68% of those occurrences happening on two-lane roads.

As reported by the American School Bus Council, more school-age pedestrians are killed during school bus pick up and drop off hours than at any other time of day. One-third of those children are between five and seven years old.

The National Safety Council stated, despite buses having their warning lights on and safety arm extended, some drivers make the decision to illegally pass, which is not only dangerous but illegal in Alabama.

In an attempt to catch and punish motorists who pass stopped school buses, a growing number of states including Alabama are allowing cameras to be placed on the outside of the bus to record illegal passing.

In 2016, Alabama enacted a law allowing for exterior school bus cameras, expanding a program initially created in 2015 in Mobile County.

“Over the past four years the DeKalb County Board of Education and Dr. [Jason] Barnett have shown a great commitment to updating the bus fleet spending approximately $4 million,” Atchley said. “During this time each bus purchase has a stop-arm camera which captures the license plate number of illegal passers.”

He said all buses purchased since 2019 are equipped with stop-arm cameras bringing the county's bus fleet to 13 new buses, 12 regular buses and one special needs bus. Additionally, all buses purchased since 2013 are equipped with interior cameras as well.

Per the Alabama Code Title 32. Motor Vehicles and Traffic, motorist face the following fines:

• First Offense for illegally passing a stopped bus is $150 to $300 for a 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 a 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 stoplights 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.

“I would like to thank our [School Resource Officers] SRO, Todd Greeson and the Circuit Clerk's Office and Judge [Steve] Whitmire for helping prosecute illegal bus passing violations,” said Atchley.

NHTSA stated the reduction of illegal passing of school buses and ensuring the safety of all its occupants requires the involvement and cooperation of many groups including motorists, school bus drivers, law enforcement officers, prosecutors and local judicial officials.

Atchley encourages motorists to be observant and aware of surroundings while behind the wheel as summer school continues through about July 2.

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