For the last two months, the bus garage on Indian Town Road has been filled with a sea of yellow, but the more than 150 buses will hit the roads of Sampson County Monday morning as the start of another school year begins.
With the beginning of another school year, and the county’s 161 buses hitting the road, school and emergency officials warn motorists and riders to be cautious when around school buses, and ensure bus safety at all times.
The school buses in Sampson County cover approximately 2 million miles per school year.
According to state law, a motorist must stop and remain stopped when a school bus is displaying its mechanical stop signal or flashing red lights and the bus is stopped for the purpose of receiving or discharging passenger. The driver of the other vehicle shall not proceed to move, pass, or attempt to pass the school bus until after the mechanical stop signal has been withdrawn, the flashing red stoplights have been turned off, and the bus has started to move.
“We encourage all motorists to obey the traffic laws and stop for the stop arm and school bus,” Herb Sanderson, bus garage director said.
According to Sanderson, new state law requires bus drivers to signal to students when it is safe to cross the bus.
“Drivers will now give a signal to kids, who are crossing in the morning and afternoon, that will indicate when it’s safe to cross,” Sanderson said.
For students who are riding the bus in the morning, they are asked to wait for the bus at least 12 feet away from traffic. Students should wait for the bus to stop and the stop arm is extended, before heading towards traffic. All students should look for traffic in both directions before crossing and students should remain at least 12 feet away from a bus at all times.
In the afternoon, the process is reversed, with drivers indicating when it is safe for students to cross in front of the bus back across to the side of the street they live on.
All students in Clinton City and Sampson County will be given a copy of the new signaling law.
“We encourage all students to be on time at their stop, follow all safety rules on and off the bus and remain seated at all times while on the bus,” Sanderson said. “It’s important for parents and students to know the law.”
According to Sanderson, the state adopted the new law because of the high number of fatalities that were a result of a motorist violating the school bus law. This, he added, is a new measure the state is using to hopefully eliminate any accidents related to buses.
Since 1999, 13 North Carolina students have been killed by passing motorists as they got on or off the school bus. One of those was a student from the Union District in Sampson County, struck and killed in 2013 when getting off the bus on U.S. 421.
With the buses hitting the roads Monday morning, Sanderson said it is important for motorist to adjust their traveling schedules to allow for slower traffic on the roads.
Highway Patrol officials say they will be looking for motorists who are violating the law and issuing citations accordingly.
“If you are identified, we will cite you for the violation,” Trooper Ricky Johnson said. “In the coming weeks, we will be following buses to monitor and make sure the students and bus drivers are as safe as possible.”
Daily, approximately 3,000-3,500 motorists violate state law and pass a stopped school bus who has their stop arm extended. Many of these, Johnson said, don’t know the law, but the majority of them are just in a hurry.
According to state law, motorists traveling on a two-lane roadway, a two-lane roadway with a center turning lane and a four-lane roadway without a median should stop in both directions when a school bus is stopped. Motorists who are traveling on a divided highway of four lanes or more with a median and a roadway of four lanes or more with a center turning lane do not have to stop when traveling in the opposite direction of the bus. All traffic following the bus must stop.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.