Officials call for safety around school buses

T-L Photo/JENNIFER COMPSTON-STROUGH Buses are parked inside the fence at the Union local bus garage, ready to transport students to class in the coming school year. As opening day approaches, motorists are being reminded to drive safely around school buses.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — School buses will be back on the road in a matter of weeks, and law enforcement is cautioning drivers to keep the new school year in mind and exercise caution on the road.

“All Ohioans can help make this school year a safe one,” Gov. Mike DeWine said in a statement. “School bus safety involves a commitment from motorists, parents and children.”

Locally, highway patrol troopers will be out in force and on the lookout during the first weeks of school to better ensure the safety of students.

“Safety on the roadway is a shared responsibility by school bus drivers and motorists,” Lt. Maurice Waddell, commander of the St. Clairsville post, said. “Motorists should always exercise caution while children are boarding and exiting school buses. … We just want to remind (motorists) … coming into the new school year, to slow down — especially going into school zones.

“We’re going to have troopers working school zones in the mornings and afternoons, looking for violations, following school buses, looking to see everybody’s doing what they’re supposed to be doing when they’re around a school bus,” Waddel said. “The main problem with that is people tend to be impatient and want to pass a school bus with the stop bar arm out and the lights on. That’s something we don’t want. You just don’t know where the kids will be at once they get off the bus, as far as a kid darting out in traffic,” he said.

According to the Ohio State Highway Patrol statistics, from 2016 to 2018, 3,962 traffic crashes involving school buses were reported in Ohio. The last fatality to occur on a school bus in the state happened in 2010. Belmont County has seen 18 bus-related crashes in that period.

Waddell said passing a school bus when its stop sign is out will result in a mandatory court appearance, a maximum fine of $500, and a possible suspension of a driver’s license.

“You just have to get back into the mode of remembering school’s in session. Slow down and watch your speed, be aware kids are out and about and deal with school buses that are stopping more frequently,” he said. “It comes down to paying attention, not being distracted, being aware of your surroundings.”

Martins Ferry Superintendent Jim Fogle said his district’s drivers were trained and ready and he joins in asking for caution.

“I ask that drivers please exercise as much caution as possible when you see a school bus, especially please pay attention to the lights and the stop signs and make sure you are stopping when you’re supposed to,” Fogle said. “Our children are precious and we don’t want anything to happen to any of them. I hope that everyone exercises as much caution as possible when they see a school bus.”

Motorists are required to stop at least 10 feet in front of or behind a school bus when flashing lights and an extended arm are displayed, and cannot resume driving until the school bus begins moving. Waddel also reminds motorists to plan ahead and allow extra time for school bus stops.

School buses are required to be inspected twice a year to ensure the bus is operating properly. Every bus used to transport students is inspected before the beginning of the school year and once randomly during the year, often by the highway patrol.