With school back in session, there are 314 school buses driving approximately 29,000 miles daily to pick up over 31,000 students in Union County.
Richard Kingsberry, director of transportation for Union County Public Schools, said his focus is on making sure every student is safely transported.
“All drivers need to be cautious,” he said. “The bus is yellow because it means take caution.”
Kinsgberry said they focus on teaching drivers to:
▪ Learn the driving patterns of motorist along the route.
▪ Always slow down and be on the lookout, using all mirrors to be aware of surroundings.
▪ Let other drivers get around the bus, and then, proceed with caution.
▪ Be aware of stop arm violations.
More than 3,000 times per day a car in North Carolina illegally passes a school bus that is stopped to load or unload students. Motorists must pay more attention.
Derek Graham, section chief for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction Transportation Services
The biggest complaint among Union County Public Schools bus drivers is other drivers violating stop arm laws.
Derek Graham, section chief for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction Transportation Services said this is a statewide problem.
“Over 3,000 times per day a car in North Carolina illegally passes a school bus that is stopped to load or unload students,” he said. “Motorists must pay more attention.”
Standard school bus procedure is to display amber lights before stopping, which warns drivers that students are about to enter and exit the bus. When the bus stops, flashes red lights and swings out the stop sign arm, it is illegal to pass the bus. The only exception to this rule is for drivers traveling in the opposite direction on a four lane road with a turning (fifth) lane in the center or physical median that divides the opposing lanes of traffic.
N.C. Department of Public Instruction has granted funding to install stop arm cameras to catch violators.
Kingsberry said the cameras cost roughly $2,000 each and Union County Public Schools has 10 to 12 buses with stop arm cameras. The rest rely on bus driver observations of vehicle make, model, license plate and driver description.
Kingsberry said this is challenging when the drivers main focus is on the students’ physical safety, but also important for identifying areas where there are a lot of offenders.
A new law requires that N.C. school bus drivers give hand signals to students entering and exiting the bus. An open, universal stop hand signal, followed by a pointed finger giving the direction of where they should walk when it’s safe to cross the road. This law took effect on Aug. 24 and Kingsberry said they are working with drivers to make sure they understand and use these signals along with stop arms and caution lights.
Kinsgberry said he and the nine transportation supervisors work with Union County Public Schools school bus drivers across the district on safety training during monthly safety meetings and in one-on-one annual driving refresher courses. The refresher training courses cover bus management, disciplinary action, defensive driving, railroad crossing and turnaround procedures, and bus inspections.
He said one of the most important aspects of the refresher course and something that is stressed all year long is defensive driving.
“No one wants to be behind a school bus. … Motorists do all they can to get in front of the school bus, which can place school bus drivers in immediate danger,” he said.
Union County Public Schools has seen a drop in bus accidents over the last two years. In the 2013-2014 school year, there were 108 accidents. In 2014-2015 there were 74 accidents.
“Bus drivers are just out there trying to do their job,” he said. “It’s still the safest mode of transportation to get children to and from school and our drivers do a remarkable job in supporting that data,” Kingsberry said.
Crystal O’Gorman is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.