School bus safety: Drivers and children urged to be cautious

Throughout the summer, crews from the Ohio State Highway Patrol have been working on inspecting every school bus in the state to ensure they are safe to transport children when classes resume this month.

Across Ohio, the Highway Patrol has 23 teams of motor vehicle inspectors who check every bus in the state at least twice each year — once before the beginning of the school year and once during the year — equaling 138,231 inspections between 2009 and 2011.

State law enforcement officers recognize that school bus safety is about more than just inspections though.

As students head back to class in the next couple weeks, troopers are reminding motorists approaching a school bus from either direction to remember they are required to stop at least 10 feet back from buses displaying red flashing lights and an extended stop arm.

Throughout Ohio, between 2009 and 2011, 4,326 motorists were cited for failing to stop for a school bus loading or unloading children.

Numbers aren’t as drastic in Auglaize County.

Sgt. Brian Jordan, of the Wapakoneta Post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, said troopers here handled eight bus complaints in 2011 and have handled two so far in 2012.

Despite the low numbers, the safety of children riding on buses and getting on or off at bus stops remains of utmost importance he said.

“As long as a bus driver files a complaint and can identify the driver in the car we will issue a citation,” Jordan said. “We don’t need to see it happen.”

He said while there have been a few complaints along Ohio 501, others have been made throughout the county.

“We take it seriously,” Jordan said.

He said most of the citations or problems are with drivers not yielding for school buses and continuing to pass despite activated lights or extended stop signs.

“If there is a school bus, then there are children, and children don’t always pay attention,” Jordan cautioned.

“You need to be aware around school buses and pay attention to signage and the kid who may run across the road without being waved on by the driver,” he said.

Jordan said while there is no typical demographic of school bus offenders, most do say that they didn’t even remember seeing a school bus or its lights.

Col. John Born, state patrol superintendent, reminded parents to caution children as well that not all drivers may stop as required of them.

“Children exiting the bus should always stop and look both ways before crossing the street and remain alert to any sudden traffic changes,” Born said.

Once school starts, motorists also should plan ahead and allow extra time for these bus stops.

Born urged them to exercise patience and never to pass a stopped school bus. They also should be watching out for children walking to and from the bus stop when they are backing out of a garage or driveway.

“With everyone’s extra attention we can make this a safe year for school bus travel,” Born said.