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INDEPENDENCE — Grayson County Sheriff Richard Vaughan announced that his office will be collaborating with other law enforcement agencies and school officials to conduct Operation Safe Stop Day today, Wednesday.
This campaign involves raising public awareness to the dangers of passing school buses that are picking up and discharging children. Law enforcement officers will be following school buses on their routes and observing selected bus stops. Motorists who violate the law and pass stopped school buses will be charged.
“We all need to do more in order to ensure the safety of our most valuable resource, our children,” Vaughan said.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), school buses are one of the safest vehicles on the road. Unfortunately, an average of 24 children die annually in bus-related incidents. The majority of these fatalities are pedestrians, four to seven years old, who are hit by a bus or by motorists illegally passing a stopped school bus.
Dennis Roop, transportation manager for Grayson County Schools, reportedly receives about 20 complaints of vehicles passing stopped school buses every year. “He believes that the actual number of cases is much higher because many incidents go unreported,” Vaughan said.
In an effort to improve the prosecution rate of these offenses, new buses are being equipped with exterior cameras capable of capturing the violator’s image.
Roop related that Grayson County schools have 45 buses running every day. He wants to educate drivers to the high alert times and hopefully prevent a tragedy.
Roop said the buses start their morning run at 6:35 and finish about 8:10. They start their afternoon run about 3:23 and finish about 4:45.
He gave these tips and asked for everyone to help improve safety:
Tips for Kids
• When the bus approaches, stand at least five giant steps (10 feet) away from the curb, and line up away from the street.
• Never walk behind the bus.
• If you have to cross the street in front of the bus, walk on the sidewalk or along the side of the road to a point at least five giant steps (10 feet) ahead of the bus before you cross. Be sure that the bus driver can see you, and you can see the bus driver.
• If you drop something near the bus, tell the bus driver. Never try to pick it up because the driver may not be able to see you.
• Wait until the bus stops, the door opens, and the driver says that it’s okay before stepping onto the bus.
Tips for Drivers
• Be alert. Children arriving late for the bus may dart into the street with out looking for traffic.
• Slow down. Watch for children playing and congregating near bus stops.
• Yellow flashing lights mean that the bus is about to stop. Approach with caution and prepare to stop.
• Remember, when you see the flashing red lights, you must stop and allow children to get on or off the bus.
• Motorists must stop their cars and wait until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop sign is withdrawn, and the bus begins moving before they can start driving again.
Bus Safety Laws
With distractions such as cell phones causing more crashes every year, Sheriff Vaughan wants to educate the public on the laws related to school bus safety.
• All drivers are banned from text messaging.
• Drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using cell phones or text messaging.
• School bus drivers are prohibited from using cell phones or text messaging.
• Failing to yield to a school bus in Virginia is a serious offense with severe penalties. Considered reckless driving in Virginia, passing a stopped school bus carries six DMV demerit points and stays on your driving record for 11 years. Violators can face fines of up to $2,500 and receive up to 12 months in jail. Higher insurance rates usually cease two years after the conviction, but the memory of hurting or killing a child will stay with you for the rest of your life.
“As Operation Safe Stop Day approaches, remember to stop for flashing red lights, or you could be stopping for blue,” Vaughan cautioned.