THE WAY WE SEE IT: Time to brush up on school bus safety | Opinion | #schoolsaftey

Summer vacation is winding down, and soon classes will start for students in Indiana County. That means we’ll soon start seeing school buses out on the roadways.

For many youngsters, this will be their first year in a classroom setting. Other youth have become accustomed to the daily rigors of learning.

A majority of students rely on school buses to get them to school and back home again safely. More to the point, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, that number was slightly more than 1.4 million in 2022 across the commonwealth.

And those buses they rode traveled 411.9 million miles during the 2021-22 school year.

Now would be a good time for drivers, students and parents to brush up on school bus safety guidelines.

While we’ve been extremely fortunate to have not received any reports of school bus zone accidents or fatalities in Indiana County resulting from disobeying traffic laws, it’s always good to send out a reminder to drive safely and intelligently not only in school zones at bus stops, but anywhere there children are present.

Children (and some adults) can be unpredictable. They don’t always look both ways before darting out into the street, whether it’s to cross it to get to the other side or retrieve a wayward ball or other object that found its way into the middle of a street.

According to the Pennsylvania Courts website, between 2018 and 2022, there were 25,583 drivers across the state cited for school zone violations, or for overtaking or illegally passing a school bus. Of that, 16,324 were for speeding in a school zone while the remaining 9, 259 were cited for overtaking or illegally passing a school bus.

During that span, 28 people in Indiana County were cited, along with 16 in Armstrong County, 414 in Westmoreland County, and 84 in Cambria County.

When it comes to overtaking or passing a school bus, Title 75 Section 3345 of the Pennsylvania Code states: “Drivers of a vehicle shall stop at least 10 feet before reaching the school bus when the red signal lights are flashing and the side stop signal arms are activated. — § 3345. Overtaking or passing school bus.”

When speeding in school zones, Title 75 Section 3365 of the Pennsylvania Code states: “When passing through a school zone as defined and established under regulations of the department, no person shall drive a vehicle at a speed greater than 15 miles per hour. — § 3365. Special speed limitations; Section B.”

State law requires drivers to stop in all directions if the lights of a bus are flashing red and the stop arm is raised. Even if you make a turn and don’t pass the bus directly, it’s still a violation.

According to PennDOT, the fine for speeding in a school zone is $35. An additional $2 is added for each mile in excess of five miles per hour over the speed limit. A driver may be cited and receive a maximum fine of $500 and three points on their license if their speed is in excess of 11 mph over the limit. Subsequent offenses will result in a 60-day license suspension.

The age of drivers who committed the most infractions between 2018-22 were from the 20-29 age group — 24 percent. Fifty-one percent of offenders were male. People age 30-39 were close behind at 22 percent. The numbers decrease drastically as the driver ages.

For overtaking a school bus, the penalty is $250 plus five points on the license, a 60-day license suspension, and a surcharge of $35.

Violating state school bus laws can result in tickets, fines and other penalties, like points on your license or a license suspension. It can also lead to higher car insurance rates.

According to a Forbes Advisor analysis, Pennsylvania drivers who get a ticket for failing to stop for a school bus pay an average of 20 percent more for car insurance, or about $500 more per year.

Drivers have a vital duty in making sure students get to and from school without harm. School bus safety is the responsibility of students, parents, teachers, administrators, bus drivers and the motoring public.

The school bus loading and unloading area is the most dangerous for pedestrians. Remember that if the red lights are flashing and the arm is extended on the school bus, make sure you’re stopped at least 10 feet away. And don’t resume moving until the bus has started to move or all of the children are safely on the sidewalks.

Parents should incorporate safety conversations into their family’s back-to-school plans. Talk with children about bus stop safety and general precautions.

Children should always:

  • Look both ways before crossing the street.
  • Follow instructions from bus drivers and crossing guards.
  • Stay at least three, big steps away from the curb when waiting for the bus; wait until the bus comes to a complete stop and the driver says it’s safe to get on the bus.
  • Make sure the bus driver can see them when crossing in front of the bus; stay at least five, big steps away and look both ways for other traffic.

Let’s do whatever we can to ensure children can get to and from school safely.

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