By Tamas Mondovics
As school goes back into session this month motorists are reminded to take note of the increase in local traffic including children walking or on bikes hurrying to get to school before the bell rings or parents trying to drop their kids off before work. The start of the school year also includes the addition of yellow school buses picking up and dropping off students prompting officials to urge motorists to be ever more vigilant on the roadways. With August considered a national school bus safety month, the Tennessee Department of Education (TDE) student transportation appropriately put bus safety the department’s number one priority.
According to TDE data, Tennessee schools transport approximately 700,000 students a day on approximately 8,700 bus routes in districts and charters across the diverse terrain of city, urban, and rural routes. The department’s student transportation office is responsible for overseeing all school bus inspections and determining whether public school bus systems are in compliance with the safety requirements set forth in the Tennessee Code. With all this in mind, the department is promising its continued commitment to provide all transportation supervisors with high-quality training and necessary resources to ensure that all buses are properly maintained. Drivers must meet strict licensing requirements, including successful completion of driver training, background checks, and drug and alcohol testing. As local schools often have their own, very specific drop-off procedures for the school year, motorists and parents are urged to be sure of knowing them for the safety of all kids. By exercising extra care and caution, drivers and pedestrians can co-exist safely in school zones. Below are some reminders about bus safety, rules, and regulations:
Know When to Stop:
•When the red lights are flashing, and the stop arm is extended.
•Motorists must stop their cars and wait until the red flashing lights are turned off, the stop arm is withdrawn, and the bus begins moving before they start driving again.
•When a school bus is stopped at an intersection to load and unload children, drivers from all directions are required to stop until the bus resumes motion.
•When driving on a highway with separate roadways for traffic in opposite directions, drivers must stop unless there is a grass median or physical barrier.
•A road that is a multi-lane or shared median, vehicles traveling in both directions must stop.
•The Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) wanted to make drivers aware of the rules and penalties for improperly passing a school bus. Tennessee Law 55-8-151 addresses the overtaking and passing school buses while unloading/loading passengers and the penalties.
The Tennessee law states: “The driver of a vehicle upon a highway, upon meeting or overtaking from either direction any school bus that has stopped on the highway for the purpose of receiving or discharging any school children, shall stop the vehicle before reaching the school bus, and the driver shall not proceed until the school bus resumes motion or is signaled by the school bus driver to proceed or the visual signals are no longer actuated. Subsection (a) shall also apply to a school bus with lights flashing and stop sign extended and marked in accordance with this subsection (a) that is stopped upon property owned, operated, or used by a school or educational institution, if the bus is stopped for the purpose of receiving or discharging any school children outside a protected loading zone.
It is a Class C misdemeanor for any person to fail to comply with any provision of this subsection (a) other than the requirement that a motor vehicle stops upon approaching a school bus.
It is a Class A misdemeanor punishable only by a fine of not less than two hundred fifty dollars ($250) nor more than one thousand dollars ($1,000) for any person to fail to comply with the provision of this subsection (a) requiring a motor vehicle to stop upon approaching a school bus.”
It is noteworthy that while much emphasis is put on motorists—and for a good reason—such does not exclude parents, guardians as well as students from being aware of guidelines in connection with school bus safety. With a new safety law in effect since January 1, 2018, there is much expected of each child while riding a school bus including no profanity used on the bus at any time for any reason. Students are asked to get seated as quickly as possible and to stay in their seat while the bus is moving. Riders are to wait until the bus stops before going to the front to exit and to exit as quickly as possible.
Other requirements include: keep your hands to yourself; absolutely no horseplay or bullying will be tolerated; do not get things out of your backpack; no eating or drinking on the bus, which is a state law. Officials explained that buses may be taken off the road due to food and candy being on the floor (it attracts insects). To keep the noise level to a minimum is a no-brainer as screams and loud noises are very distractive to the driver.
For a complete list of rules, please visit www.tn.gov/safety/tnhp/cvemain/pupiltransport.html.