STOP. It’s the law

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Illegal passing of school buses a local, national issue

By Kacie Goode

On a single day in 2018, nearly 84,000 motorists illegally passed school buses on roadways nationwide, and the problem is one school districts are seeing at the state and local level.

Each year, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) compiles a survey of thousands of bus drivers from different states for its annual Stop Arm Violation Count. The survey takes place in each participating state on a single day, with bus drivers recording any violations of vehicles passing buses stopped to unload or pick up children. On April 25, Kentucky’s designated survey day, 728 violations were recorded, the majority of which occurred during afternoon transportation.

"You will get caught and you will get prosecuted. Don’t risk fines or the possible injury or even death of a child in an effort to save time.”

Bardstown Police Department

While neither public school system in this area participated in the 2018 survey, district officials say the problem is one they have encountered in the past and continue to see.

Sixteen Bardstown City Schools bus drivers took part in the survey in 2017 and reported 13 vehicles illegally passing district buses. Of those 13, seven passed a bus during morning transportation, five passed a bus during afternoon transportation and one passed a bus during mid-day transportation. All violators passed on the left side of the bus.

“I had one just the other day, and I blew my horn at them,” said BCS bus driver Kelly Kidd of alerting the driver to the wrongdoing. It’s an issue he’s encountered more than once while transporting local students.

Another recent encounter involved a vehicle going around his bus while he was stopped in a subdivision. He also blared his horn at that driver, who came back to apologize for the offense.

“I just tried to explain to them, there are so many kids who have lost their lives,” he said. “I’m a parent as well,” and when drivers fail to stop, they place children’s lives at risk.

“When you see this,” he said, referencing the red, flashing stop sign by his driver’s side window, “you need to stop.”

While Nelson County Schools District does not have a formal system for documenting passing violations if an accident does not occur, Director of Transportation Jeff Marchese said drivers will occasionally call in to report an incident. He also said Sheriff Ramon Pineiroa has been helping patrol troubled spots for the district, and area law enforcement have taken action against some offenders recently.

On Friday, a driver was arrested by Kentucky State Police after he failed to stop for a seat belt violation in New Haven and passed a school bus that was unloading children in the process.

A driver was also cited in December for allegedly passing a bus on Lawrenceburg Road that had stopped to let a child off. That driver passed on the right-hand side where the child was about to step out.

Another instance reported by County Schools involved a high school student passing a bus, and the student was reprimanded by officers.

While local violations may occur less frequently than in larger communities or high-traffic urban areas, it’s one districts and local law enforcement are working to address. The Bardstown Police Department has posted recently on its Facebook page daily tips and informative links reminding motorists of laws and penalties.

“You will get caught and you will get prosecuted,” one recent post read, “Don’t risk fines or the possible injury or even death of a child in an effort to save time.”

Some communities are taking action in other forms, such as Hardin County, which recently placed cameras on the sides of buses to catch drivers failing to stop when required. A young student in that district was nearly hit by a car getting off the bus earlier this month, and the vehicle that nearly hit the student collided with the bus and left the scene.

Under current state law, if any school or church bus used to transport children is stopped for the purpose of loading or unloading passengers and has a stop arm and signal lights activated, vehicles approaching in any direction — with some exceptions made to highways of four lanes or more — must stop and not proceed until the bus is back in motion.

Penalties for passing a school bus in Kentucky can include a fine between $100 and $200, imprisonment for 30 to 60 days or both for the first offense. Subsequent offenses could result in fines of up to $500 and up to six months in jail.

But some educators, legislators and families want stiffer punishments for offenders, and some states, such as Indiana, have already taken action. Lawmakers in that state recently approved a bill to suspend driver’s licenses for 90 days for the first offense and to pursue felony charges against those who recklessly pass a bus. The push came after three Indiana siblings were fatally struck in October when a driver failed to stop.

Learn more about school bus safety at education.ky.gov.