Back-to-school time brings increased enforcement


Photo by Dave Boyd
Jessica Townsend and Bridgit Singleton, Hampton High School students, take three giant steps away from the bus as they watch for vehicles.
By Rozella Hardin
STAR STAFF
rhardin@starhq.com
Every school year, children across Tennessee get hurt and killed at their neighborhood bus stops.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division will be using a variety of methods to ensure school bus safety -- including monitoring school zones and periodically placing troopers on school buses to find out first-hand what types of enforcement actions are needed.
"Thousands of children board school buses every day, and making sure they are transported safely is one of our highest priorities," said Department of Safety Commissioner Fred Phillips. "We will do everything we can to protect them."
Troopers will be concentrating on reducing speed in school zones, and making sure motorists follow the law that requires them to stop their vehicles when meeting or coming up behind a bus while passengers are getting on or off. To accomplish this, troopers will be working school zones in the mornings and afternoons, and the THP will randomly place troopers on school buses, especially in areas where there have been a large number of violators reported.
Commissioner Phillips said, "Drivers need to remember that it is against the law to speed through a school zone, and they can be fined and even face jail time if they don't stop for a school bus that's picking up or dropping off children."
The Department of Safety's Public Transportation Division inspects 9,000 school buses each year, certifies school bus drivers across the state, and holds mandatory training sessions each year for 12,000 public school bus drivers.
Carter County school bus drivers attended safety training classes this past week as part of the certification process. Jerry Nave, supervisor of transportation for the Carter County School System, said the department maintains 66 buses which travel over 3,300 miles a day and transport approximately 5,000 students.
"Our bus drivers are tested twice a year. We have a good safety record," Nave said, noting that Carter County has one of the best retention rates among drivers in the state. "I think it is because the county pays our drivers good and they have benefits. We get good people and they stay with us," he said. The county employs 85 drivers, some of whom are substitutes.
Nave said everyone needs to be concerned about school bus safety, not just the drivers, but other motorists as well as the children who ride the buses.
"Historically, we are told, most problems do not happen on the school bus itself but rather on the road outside," Nave said. Student fatalities most often happen when children are run over by their own school bus. Nationally, most fatalities occur in the loading and unloading zone after students have departed the bus and are on their way home.
"Tennessee means business when it comes to protecting its children," Commissioner Phillips said. "Troopers are closely watching school buses on the road and especially when students are getting on and off."
The Commissioner's office offered the following "Bus Stop Safety Tips" to make sure children and others make it to and from school each day without injury. Parents are encouraged to review the tips with their children to enhance their awareness for safe measures:
* A trusted adult should be at your child's bus stop every morning and every evening.
* Children should be cautioned about the danger of strangers.
* Be at least five minutes early to catch the bus.
* There are blind spots where the bus driver can lose sight of a child. It's never safe to walk close to the front of the bus. Children should walk five giant steps ahead of the bus before crossing in front of it. Children should always stay three giant steps away from the side of the bus. Never walk behind the school bus.
* Walk (don't run) three giant steps away from the bus when getting off.
* When the bus approaches, step back from the curb at least three giant steps.
* Never run to catch the bus.
* If you have to walk on roads where there is no sidewalk, walk against traffic and stay out of the road.
* Stay out of the road and wait for the bus to stop before you walk to it. Make sure you can see the bus driver's eyes when boarding or crossing in front of the bus.
* If you must cross the street to get to the bus, always look left, then right, then left again.
* Use the handrail when you get off the bus.
* Make sure there are no dangling pieces of clothing, drawstrings on hoods, untied shoestrings, key chains or backpack straps that could get caught on the handrail or in the bus door.
* If you drop something under or near the bus, don't pick it up until you tell the bus driver, otherwise, the driver may not see you.
* If you leave something on the bus, do not run after the bus to get it.
* Stay away from the bus wheels, and watch for moving cars.