Passing stopped school buses a dangerous daily occurrence

Published 7:14 pm Monday, August 20, 2018

Next Monday, as Beaufort County Schools marks its first day of classes after summer break, hundreds of local children will board buses bound for area schools. While bus stops are places to catch up with friends and prepare for the day ahead, in some instances, they can also present unique dangers.

According to Beaufort County Schools Transportation Director Jerry Wynne, the issue of motorists passing stopped school buses is something drivers and students deal with on a daily basis. Simply put, when the red lights flash and the stop sign arm comes out, drivers who don’t heed the warning put the lives of children at risk.

“It happens in Beaufort County multiple times per school day,” Wynne said.

Not only is passing a stopped school bus dangerous, it’s also illegal. Wynne says that in instances where motorists pass a stopped school bus, the school system works closely with the North Carolina Highway Patrol to prosecute drivers. This year, these prosecutions will be aided by the installation of new cameras on a number of buses throughout the school system’s fleet.

“We’ve received more cameras this year,” Wynne said. “Every school in the district is now equipped with one or more external school bus cameras.”

According to the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, the penalties for passing a stopped school bus are severe, especially in the event that someone is struck or killed.

There is a $500 penalty for motorists who are caught passing a stopped school bus, and a five-point penalty on their driver license. A driver who passes a stopped school bus and strikes someone will face a Class I felony and be fined a minimum of $1,000. The penalty increases to a Class H felony and fine of $2,500 if someone is killed.

SAFE DRIVING: As illustrated in this diagram, traffic must stop in both directions when a school bus is stopped in the roadway. (N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles)

At the state level, August is recognized as Back to School Safety Month. In a recent release from North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey, the N.C. Department of Insurance encouraged drivers to learn the rules of the road when it comes to stopped school buses.

“Passing a stopped school bus can result in the motorist adding four insurance points and seeing an 80 percent increase in auto insurance premiums,” Causey said in the release. “More importantly, making such an ill-advised and unsafe move could result in injury or death to one of our precious children.”

The NCDOI offers the following safety tips for bus riders and drivers.

For bus riders:

  • Teach children the proper way to get on and off the bus.
  • Line up six feet away from the curb as the bus approaches.
  • If seat belts are available, buckle up.
  • Wait for the bus to stop completely before standing.
  • If you must cross the road, walk at least 10 feet in front of the bus.

For motorist, in addition to obeying the stopped school bus law:

  • Don’t block crosswalks.
  • Yield to pedestrians in crosswalks and take extra precaution in school zones.
  • Never pass a vehicle stopped for pedestrians.
  • Stop far enough back from a school bus to allow children room to safely enter and exit the bus. The area 10 feet around a school bus is the most dangerous for children.