Letters to the Editor - Aug. 4, 2008

Follow the law when following school buses

To the editor:

As summer ends and the new school year approaches, I'd like to remind motorists they will soon be sharing the road with precious cargo. And carrying that precious cargo will be convoys of big, yellow school buses.

Students of all ages should feel safe when getting on or off their school bus. No matter where we're going or how much of a hurry we're in, all motorists must obey the law when it comes to stopping for school buses. Otherwise, the consequences are just too great.

Georgia law governs how motorists should proceed in the presence of a school bus. Passing is prohibited on either side of a school bus during passenger loading and unloading. When a school bus activates its swing-arm stop sign and red flashing lights, drivers on both sides of the roadway must stop. However, if a concrete or grass median strip separates the opposing traffic lanes, only vehicles following or travelling alongside in the same direction as the school bus are required to stop.

School bus law violators face stiff penalties in Georgia. Speeding in school zones results in double the number of points on driver's licenses. Traffic enforcement officers say this is one moving violation where motorists should not expect to receive warning citations. If you don't slow down for the flashing amber lights, you should expect to see flashing blue lights.

When a driver is ticketed for the unlawful passing of a school bus, misdemeanor fines can range up to $1,000, accompanied by up to a year in jail. Administrative license penalties apply statewide. A conviction for unlawfully passing a school bus carries six (6) points on a driver's license for all offenders. Penalties for drivers under the age of 21 result in automatic license suspension for six months and all subsequent repeat offenses result in a 12-month suspension.

The reason behind Georgia's tough penalties is clear. A 2006 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that since 1996, 1,536 people have died in school transportation-related crashes. That's an average of 140 fatalities per year. In the same time period, 159 school-age pedestrians died in school transportation-related crashes. Twenty eight percent of those children were killed by vehicles other than the one transporting them to or from school.

Motorists are always advised to be aware of their surroundings, but here are lifesaving tips to keep in mind when travelling near a school bus:

TIP 1: When a school bus prepares to stop to load or unload children, the driver activates flashing yellow lights. All vehicles approaching the bus should slow down and be prepared to stop when seeing these lights.

TIP 2: Pay close attention to children who may be crossing the road or walking or waiting alongside it.

TIP 3: Once stopped, remain stopped until the bus resumes motion or deactivates its warning signal AND all passengers have cleared the roadway.

TIP 4: Be prepared to react to unexpected movements of small children waiting for their bus. They don't always follow standard pedestrian safety rules.

TIP 5: Resist distractions in school zones and near bus stops.

TIP 6: If approaching railroad tracks behind a school bus, wait until the bus completely crosses the tracks and there's room on the other side for another vehicle to safely clear the tracks before proceeding.

Diligence is of utmost importance when it comes to protecting our children. So, as Georgia drivers continue their morning and afternoon commutes, they need to be aware that school buses and energetic children will soon be an active part of those commutes again. If nothing else, always remember to Avoid Harm, Obey the Stop Arm.

For more information on traffic laws regarding school bus safety, visit the Georgia Department of Driver Services web site at www.dds.ga.gov to access the 2008 Driver's Manual. For more information on school bus safety, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov or the American School Bus Council at www.americanschoolbuscouncil.org .


Director, Georgia Governor's

Office of Highway Safety