We are about a month into the school year and many counties are trying to educate the public and enforce school bus safety laws. In Alachua County, the Sheriff’s Office has a safety program “Operation BlueBird” that they do every year with these goals in mind. It begins the week of October 20th.
Seventy citations were issued to drivers in Alachua County who did not stop for stopped school buses in 2013, 47 in 2014 and 37 in 2015. As of 2016, nine citations have already been issued, according to the Alachua County Clerk of Court.
The sheriff’s office launched a social media campaign in August, before the first week of school, to remind residents to watch out for children and stopped school buses. Social media and school resource deputies will educate drivers on the proper way to approach stopped school buses. Public schools will also take an active role in educating the public about when they must stop for school buses.
Florida State Statute 316.172 states that when a school bus stops and turns on its flashing lights and extends its signs, motorists must also stop unless there is an unpaved median of at least five feet, a raised median or a physical barrier separating the vehicle from the stopped school bus. If people do not follow the school bus safety laws, the fine for passing a stopped school bus is $264 and $364 for passing the bus on the right side, plus a mandatory court appearance, according to the sheriff’s office.
Bus drivers will also report any problems during their routes, and law enforcement will then set up patrols at problem areas to catch those not following school bus safety laws, Johnson said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration considers school buses to be the safest form of transportation for daily school commutes. However, nationally, about 16 students each year are fatally injured while getting on or off a school bus.
Unfortunately, the greatest risk involved is not riding the school bus, but getting on and off the bus. Children need to be especially careful around the school bus “danger zone,” which is the 10 feet in front, behind and on each side of the school bus.
Each year, nationwide, numerous students are injured getting on or off the school bus. Most of those fatally injured are children, 5 to 7 years old. Students are more likely to be injured while within the “danger zones” of the school bus. The danger zones extend 10 feet around the perimeter of the school bus.
Situations where persons are positioned in close proximity of the wheels and/or the school bus’ body is especially dangerous. That danger is magnified when the school bus is in motion, according to National Highway Safety.
Many students will assume that the bus driver can see them while in the danger zones. That assumption can be fatal. The school bus is a very large vehicle and students may not always be visible to the school bus driver when in the danger zones. Again, this danger is compounded when the child is small in stature, bending down or when there is poor direct visibility of the student. Other dangers include vehicles that may pass the school bus on the left side as well as the right side of the school bus.
Operation Bluebird will run from Oct. 20 to Oct. 24, coinciding with National School Bus Safety Week.