Rules of the Road

February 23, 2005 1 min read

Drivers in North Carolina have apparently forgotten one of the cardinal rules of the road: Do not pass a stopped school bus.

Even though Gov. Michael F. Easley proclaimed the week of Feb. 7-11 as “Watch Out for the Child” week, state law-enforcement officials say that motorists are not heeding the message.

State troopers issued 29 citations for passing a stopped school bus during the week, according to the North Carolina Department of Crime Control and Public Safety.

The issue is a major concern, because two North Carolina children were killed and at least two were injured in the past two years trying to board or get off their buses, said Derek Graham, the section chief of transportation services for the state education department.

More than 750,000 children ride school buses each day in the state.

Mr. Graham said that a motorist passes a stopped school bus an estimated 2,000 times each day statewide. The statistics have not decreased since the education department began recording data in 1997, despite officials’ best efforts to bring the problem to the public’s attention.

“We just have to continue to focus on public awareness and a concentrated effort by law enforcement,” Mr. Graham said.

Passing a stopped school bus is a Class 2 misdemeanor. If convicted, motorists receive “points” on their driver’s licenses and possibly up to $200 in fines.

The threat of penalties doesn’t seem to discourage rushing motorists, who may be distracted by cellphone calls or determined to arrive at their destinations by a certain time.

Mr. Graham says the problem lies in the training of drivers.

“We just don’t have the right instincts,” he said, noting that many drivers have not been trained to treat the school bus stop sign as a immobile stop sign.

“I don’t think people are intentionally trying to impose a safety risk for kids, but that is the way it turns out to be,” he said.

Jayne Kirkpatrick, the director of public affairs for the city of Raleigh, said many motorists fail to consider the threat they pose to children when they do not obey the buses’ stop signs, especially when there are dual lanes in one direction. In such situations, she said, students edge their way out into the street to determine whether they can cross.

“It’s a lot to ask of children,” Ms. Kirkpatrick said. “It’s just so easy to avoid.”

A version of this article appeared in the February 23, 2005 edition of Education Week