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More than 100 Wilson County Schools buses will hit the roads Monday for the first day of the academic year.
And to ensure student safety, the Wilson Police Department’s Strategic Traffic Enforcement Patrol will be out in full force.
“We will be working school zones and watching bus stops heavily the first week of school,” said Sgt. Benny Boykin, who is over the department’s STEP team. Some private and charter schools are already back in session and authorities have been monitoring those areas as well.
Drivers should not only be aware of posted speed limits in school zones, but also pay attention to crosswalks and abide by school bus stop arm laws.
“If they come to a crosswalk area, they need to slow down,” Boykin said. “Be aware of school crossing guards.”
Not only is it against the law to pass a stopped school bus, it’s also dangerous for children who are trying to get on and off the bus.
That’s why it’s vital for drivers to pay close attention and remember a few key school bus laws.
“Just remember if you are on a two-lane road, all traffic must stop,” Boykin said. Traffic on both sides also has to stop if there is a two-lane road with a center turning lane. On a four-lane road without a median, traffic from both directions must stop. When there is a divided highway with four or more lanes, only traffic following the school bus needs to stop. When on a road with four lanes or more with a center turning lane, only vehicles following the bus must stop, officials said.
Boykin said if drivers aren’t sure when to stop, they should err on the side of caution.
“When in doubt, be on the safe side and stop,” he said.
ROAD CONSTRUCTION, BUS ROUTES
The school system’s transportation department has been preparing the school buses to ensure they are ready to go Monday. Due to road construction going on throughout the county, officials are having to rework some of its routes, according Amber Lynch, the school system’s public relations director.
School transportation officials are asking parents to be patient for the first few days of school as they work out the kinks, she said. Officials’ biggest concerns are U.S. 301 and Lipscomb Road.
Wilson County Schools buses transport about 5,100 students each day to and from school. In a year’s time, those 112 buses travel more than 1.5 million miles, Lynch added.
Passing a stopped school bus is something law enforcement takes seriously because a child’s life could be in danger.
In 2014, two Rock Ridge Elementary School pupils were struck and seriously injured after they tried to board their school bus one morning. The school bus had made a complete stop, flashed its red lights and had its stop arm extended when a man struck the children and continued driving. The driver was later sentenced to roughly three years in prison for passing a stopped school bus, injuring the children and leaving the scene.
If a driver is convicted of a passing a stopped school bus, it’s a Class 1 misdemeanor. It also carries five points on a person’s driving record. It’s the only charge other than aggressive driving that carries that amount of points.
If a driver passes a stopped school bus and serious injuries occur, that charge increases to a Class I felony, officials said. And if it results in death, the charged is bumped up to a Class H felony.
SCHOOL BUS CAMERAS
All school buses that operate in Wilson County are equipped with interior and exterior cameras.
Those cameras take pictures and record the drivers who fail to stop for a stopped school bus.
The camera systems also have “alert buttons” that bus drivers can push when they see a stop arm violation. While the camera continually records, that alert button can help school and law enforcement officials pinpoint the approximate time the violation occurred. This keeps law enforcement and officials from having to look at hours of video when trying to find violators, school officials said.
Wilson police and N.C. Highway Patrol troopers work closely with the school system in cracking down on drivers who pass a stopped school bus.
BY THE NUMBERS
For several years now, the state has conducted a one-day stop arm violation count. School bus drivers across the state report that more than 3,000 vehicles illegally passed stopped buses on a single day, according to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. Wilson County had 11 stop arm violations for one day in March 2018 — a significant drop for that same month in 2017 when the total came in at 36, according to state figures.
For 2016, Wilson County had 12 stop arm violations in a single day in March; and in 2015, officials recorded 10 stop arm violations for that same time period of a single day.