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Officials emphasize caution during school bus safety week

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County Public Schools, and the Clayton County Police Department, are urging motorists to take greater caution around school buses, bus stops and in school zones.

This week is National School Bus Safety Week, and it is designed to drive home the message of why it is important for motorists to use caution while driving around school buses, bus stops and school zones. The police department has been conducting patrols near bus stops and school zones, to enforce traffic laws in those areas.

Refreshments will be served to bus drivers today at local schools to thank the drivers for their service.

Superintendent John Thompson will highlight bus safety on Thursday by riding a bus to school with students from Roberts Middle School.

The school system's transportation department carries more than 32,000 students to and from school and extracurricular events daily, according to a school system statement. The department has 525 buses, and more than 600 employees.

"National School Bus Safety Week is critical to stressing the importance of bus safety, and it allows us to stress to motorists the need to use caution around school buses, bus stops, and school zones," said John Lyles, director of Clayton County Public Schools' transportation department, on Tuesday in a phone interview.

The theme for this year's National School Bus Safety Week is "Stop on Red, Kids Ahead," according to the website of the National Association for Pupil Transportation's (NAPT), one of the sponsors of the annual awareness event.

Clayton County Police spokesman Officer Tim Owens said it is important for motorists to keep children and bus stops in mind when driving through neighborhoods in the early morning hours.

"Slow down and remember it's still dark outside at 7 a.m.," said Owens. "People need to be cognizant that kids are standing out there, waiting for the school bus to pick them up."

The Georgia State Patrol announced it also is watching for people who do not stop for a stopped school bus. In a statement posted in August on the Georgia Department of Public Safety's website, Public Safety Commissioner Col. Bill Hitchens said state troopers normally patrol school zones as part of their regular duties.

Hitchens also pointed to state laws which regulate how drivers should behave around school buses. Vehicles must stop when approaching a school bus that is stopped, or other occasions when a bus has its red lights flashing and its stop arm extended. Drivers are also urged to avoid tailgating a school bus because the bus will make several stops.

"Drivers should always exercise caution around a school bus and observe the posted speed limit in school zones," said Hitchens. "For drivers under the age of 21, a conviction for unlawfully passing a stopped school bus will result in a six-month suspension of your driver's license."

The NAPT's website includes more information about what children and parents can do to remain safe at bus stops. The recommendations include:

· Children should stand at least 10 feet (or "five giant steps") from the edge of the road.

· Before boarding a school bus, young ones should wait until the bus has stopped, the door has opened, and bus driver says it is OK to get on the bus.

· Children should always walk in front of the school bus, not behind it, and they should be at least 20 feet in front of the bus when they cross the street.

· Youths should look both ways for oncoming cars before stepping off a school bus.

· If something falls under or near a school bus, the child or parent should tell the driver about it, rather than trying to pick it up themselves.

· Children should stay in their seats on the school bus so they do not distract the bus driver.