Driving home bus safety

For school bus safety drills, children are shown how to leave through the back exit in case of an emergency, but in recent years, another safety concern has come to the forefront, involving drivers who endanger the lives of children by ignoring bus signals and signs.

In the past year, state police estimate that more than 50,000 drivers have ignored the mechanical arms and flashing red lights on all school buses. That comes despite steep fines of up to $1,000, possible jail time and points on violators' licenses.

In the past couple of years, two children in New York have died from accidents that occurred when drivers did not heed the flashing lights and stop signs on school buses. Sixty-nine other children statewide have been injured getting on or off a school bus in the past two years. Each accident resulted from a motorist illegally passing a school bus.

Highlighting that safety concern, key public officials gathered in front of Niskayuna High School last week to draw attention to a state law requiring drivers to stop when school buses are dropping off or picking up children. The press conference publicized the kick-off of an annual project spearheaded by state police and local law enforcement called Operation Safe Stop.

That one-day sweep took place last Thursday and netted an unknown number of tickets. Officers followed buses and targeted key stretches of local roadway as part of the crackdown on illegal passing. The main goal of the sweep was to educate the public about their responsibilities.

School buses are yellow for a reason to send a message to drivers that the cargo on board is very valuable," said State Trooper Gerald Meyer.

Every school day, more than 2.3 million students are passengers on buses provided by local school districts, said Peter Mannella, executive director of the New York Association of Pupil Transportation.

"There is one factor we can not control: We cannot make the motoring public stop for school buses. That decision is up to them," Mannella said.

State law requires vehicles to slow down when the yellow lights are flashing on a school bus. Once the red lights start flashing, nearby vehicles are required to make a complete stop. These regulations apply to cars that are on the opposite side of divided highways, multi-lane roads, parking lots and school grounds. ""

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