10/19/11 Troopers focus on school bus safety

Troopers focus on school bus safety
By Molly McGowan The Times-News 10/19/11     
Reprinted with permission.

  All across the state this week, the N.C. Highway Patrol is enforcing school bus safety with Operation Stop Arm.

   “It’s a project to deter people from passing stopped school buses,” said Trooper Brett Norton. He said the Highway Patrol is always on the lookout for drivers passing stopped school buses, but troopers go out in force a couple of times every year to emphasize the law’s importance. According to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, Transportation Services, 3,680 drivers passed a school bus stopped to pick up or drop off children on March 23, 2011. Eighteen of those violations were in Alamance County.

   According to General Statute 20-217, drivers approaching a school bus from either direction on a street must stop when the bus stops, displays its flashing red lights and extends its “stop” arm. Drivers should wait to pass the school bus until after the red lights have been turned off, the “stop” arm has been retracted and the bus has resumed motion.

   Norton compared a slowing school bus to a yellow light; drivers shouldn’t view either as a chance to increase speed to avoid either a red light or a wait in traffic. Rather, he said, they should “prepare to stop.”

   Norton said troopers all over North Carolina will be in marked and unmarked cars, following school buses in the mornings and afternoons to catch anyone who passes a stopped bus. He emphasized the rule’s importance since visibility isn’t always good.

   “In the mornings, it’s still dark when these kids get picked up,” said Norton, adding that some don’t always wait until the “stop” arm extends before crossing the street to board a bus safely.

   The only instance when a vehicle driving in the opposite direction of a stopped school bus doesn’t legally have to stop is when the roadway is divided. If a center turn lane or physical median is in between the two directions of traffic, vehicles driving in the opposite direction of the stopped bus don’t have to stop. However, stopping is still a good idea, said Norton.

   “I would encourage people to stop,” he said.