Safety the mantra as buses roll Monday

Sherry Matthews Editor

August 25, 2013

Those bright yellow buses will hit the roads again bright and early Monday morning for the start of the 2013-14 school year, but before they do, law enforcement officers and school officials are urging all motorists to be mindful of the laws and, most importantly, to obey them.

“We need motorists to use caution, to stop when the school bus arm is deployed and to watch for youngsters getting on and off the buses,” N.C. Highway Patrol Sgt. Bryan Smith stressed.

“We want this to be a safe school year; it starts with our motoring public.”

The safety push begins Monday but will continue throughout the year with Highway Patrol troopers, Smith said, randomly riding on school buses throughout the county to look for violators of school bus laws.

That program will include a second officer on a Highway Patrol vehicle stationed nearby that will pull over motorists caught violating those laws.

“We are going to be doing this on a random basis,” Smith said. “We may not see a violator, or we may, but it will have us out in the public and hopefully it will be somewhat of a deterrent. The key here is safety.”

Clinton Police Chief Jay Tilley said his officers would be out in full force Monday, as well, with two officers stationed at each of the city schools, blue lights flashing as a caution to motorists. “We want this school year to start safe and stay safe throughout,” Tilley said.

The first step in the safety push began late in the week when school bus drivers in Clinton City and Sampson County schools convened for their annual opening day workshop, a day that was filled with accolades, fellowship and quiet reflection on the tragic death of a Union Elementary School student killed late in the school year when an alleged impaired driving passed the stopped school bus she was exiting.

“None of us can forget that dreaded day back in April,” stressed Sampson transportation director Herb Sanderson. “It was very tragic and the bus driver has been through a great deal. This accident wasn’t our fault but it weighs on us even now as we start this school year. It is a reminder that it could happen again. We pray it won’t, but we have to be mindful that it could and we need to do all we can to ensure that it doesn’t.”

The annual meeting, he said, while often going over the same material, is beneficial because of such realities. “The stuff you hear during this meeting might help you in some way … might help to prevent a tragedy from occurring.”

Student safety was the focus, and speakers like Bryan Smith drove home the responsibilities school bus drivers shoulder twice a day each and every day of the school year.

“Always, before you activate your flashing red lights, activate your caution lights giving motorists ample time to start slowing down,” Smith stressed. “If possible, wait until they’ve stopped to deploy your red flashing light and the stop arm. And, before you allow the students to disembark the bus or get on the bus, make sure every motorists has come to a complete stop”

Smith also reminded the drivers of North Carolina’s highway laws as it pertains to buses, including that drivers cannot use a cell phone while operating the vehicle.

He stressed that drivers should always use common sense, acknowledging that they were on the front lines and always had the students’ safety at the forefront of their minds.

“You guys do a good job,” Smith said. “Let’s keep that up and make this a safe and successful school year.”

It was a sentiment shared by Sanderson and superintendents from both school systems as they delivered praise to those charged with safely bringing youngsters to and from school each day.

“You guys are vital to our educational system,” Sanderson said. “You start the school day for our students … without bus drivers we simply can’t even have school.”

Clinton City superintendent Stuart Blount added the exclamation point in his remarks, calling the drivers vitals cogs in the educational wheel.

“We cannot open school without you. Teachers cannot teach our kids without you. You are truly among the unsung heroes who make a difference in the lives of our children. I cannot stress enough the impact you make, the influence you have,” Blount said, “and I cannot thank you enough.”

Outgoing Sampson superintendent Dr. Ethan Lenker concurred, adding his thanks to Blount’s. “You have great attitudes and they are infectious. It’s what the kids remember. It gives them a good start to their day. We know you have a hard job, but you keep a good attitude and we thank you for it.”