10/28/10 — Knowing when to stop

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Knowing when to stop

By Gary Popp
Published in News on October 28, 2010 1:46 PM

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Wayne County School District bus driver James Shepard talks about the stop sign attached to the bus which is used to stop drivers when he picks up and drops off students. Local law enforcement officials are stepping up efforts to stop people from driving past the sign and endangering the welfare of students. Shepard say that on average three cars a week fail to stop when the sign is in use.

North Carolina Highway Patrol troopers have been on the lookout for drivers who don't think the rules about stopping around school buses apply to them.

Operation Stop Arm, a statewide campaign aimed at getting drivers to make better decisions when they are near stopped school buses, has put more troopers on school bus routes, watching to see how drivers respond when they see the bus's stop sign, First Sgt. Jerry Burton said.

"We want to make sure people are aware that they need to stop when the stop arm is down -- children's lives are in jeopardy," he said.

According to the Highway Patrol, more than 2,300 drivers violate North Carolina's school bus stop arm law each school day.

During the five-day campaign, the state Highway Patrol followed about 1,225 school buses, said Sgt. Jeff Gordon, Highway Patrol public information officer.

Across the state, 24 citations were issued to drivers passing stopped school buses.

The Highway Patrol post in Wayne County's district followed 23 school buses during the campaign, issuing two citations for drivers passing stopped school buses.

While monitoring the buses in Wayne County, the Highway Patrol also issued citations for speeding, seatbelt and driver's license violations.

In Wayne County, the Highway Patrol responds to calls of people passing stopped school buses several times a month. Most of the calls received are from school bus drivers, Burton said.

"The bus drivers do a very good job of providing us with license plate numbers and vehicle descriptions," Burton said.

Raymond Smith, Wayne County Schools director of transportation, attributes some of the violations to confusion among drivers.

"We find too often that the general public does not know when or when not to stop behind a school bus."

Any four-lane road that does not have a median or turning lane and roads with high speed limits are probably the most dangerous areas, Smith said.

"We have students who live on double lane, 55-mph roads and busy thoroughfares," Smith said. "And the buses need to stop there."

School officials always try to design the routes for students to board the bus from the right side, but that is not always feasible, Smith said.

"If there is ever any confusion, always err on the side of caution," Gordon said.

Unfortunately, there are times when people are not fully focused on driving when behind the wheel.

"I think it is a matter of people not paying attention," Gordon said.

While both vagueness of the law and a lack of concentration lead to stop-arm violations, there are cases when people knowingly commit the violations.

"People attempt to beat the bus before the arm comes down," Gordon said.

Passing a stopped school bus is a Class 2 misdemeanor, according the Highway Patrol reports. If convicted, a person will receive five driving points on their driver's license and could be subject to fines up to $200.

"Sometimes you have people following the bus who are in such a hurry that they will not see a child coming from the opposite side of the road because their focus is on the bus," Smith said. "Whenever you see a school bus always be prepared to stop."

For questions regarding what to do when you see a school bus on the roadways, go to ncbussafety.org for safety tips and laws. You can also visit a DMV website or location for a copy of the driver's handbook.