Too Close For Comfort

Motorist inattention poses threat to children’s safety on school buses

By FAITH HUFFMAN | News-Telegram News Editor

Sept 23, 2007 - Distracted drivers this week caused a few close calls for school buses and children, a fact that has police and transportation officials concerned.

Staff Photo by Angela Pitts

Police and school officials want to avoid another mishap like this crash in 2005 when a car rear-ended a school bus. Driver inattentiveness is being blamed for at least three close calls in the past week involving motorists and SSISD buses carrying children to and from school.

Both Sulphur Springs Police Patrol Capt. Norman Colyer and Sulphur Springs Independent School District Transportation Director Larry Finney are urging motorists to be more cautious during peak bus traveling hours and along bus routes.

�The school bus barn said they�ve had a few close calls with kids loading and unloading,� Colyer said. "We�ve had reports of a few more close calls than normal for this time of year.

�We�ve had no accidents yet, no one hurt, but we do need to remind people to drive safely,� Colyer added. "Watch for buses and kids."

This week alone, drivers on SSISD’s daily 40 bus routes reported three near mishaps due to driver inattention. 

�Mind you, these are not bad people,� Finney said. �They were just not paying attention to what was going on around them. They were distracted. All said they didn�t notice the kids crossing the street at first.�

Finney reminds drivers that being aware of what lies ahead as you approach is important, especially in areas where buses are loading and unloading children because of the distance a vehicle still travels after hitting the brakes.

�Sometimes, our depth perception is off a little, and they come up on them in a hurry,� Finney said, adding that all of the incidents have been random occurrences.

"If we see there has become a problem in a certain area, we’ll try to judge how to modify the stop, maybe move it up the street a little to try to avoid hazardous conditions," he said.

There have only been "one or two" situations so far this year in which motorists passed school buses that had flashing yellow and red lights on, Finney noted. Failing to stop for a school bus can result in a traffic citation which carries $358 fine. 

Speeding in a school zone also carries a hefty fine. The fine for driving 10-15 miles over the posted limit in a school zone is $198. That amount increases to $268 for 16-20 miles per hour over the posted limit, and $318 for 21 or miles over.

While speeders can still take defensive driving for violations of 24 miles per hour or less over the posted limit, anyone cited for speeding 25 mph or more over the limit in a school zone is ineligible for defensive driving and will bear the weight of that offense on their driving record for a while, according to information from Sulphur Springs Municipal Court.

So far, no one has been injured, and that’s the way police and school officials hope to keep it. In order for that to happen, however, motorists will have to be more attentive in their travels during school bus hours.

In Sulphur Springs, buses are busy picking children up between the hours of 6:30 a.m. and 7:45 a.m. and taking them home from about 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

�Slow down and pay attention,� Finney said. "Not doing so could have repercussion that will change people�s lives forever.

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