A weekend interview with Tad Kledzik, Pasco County school transportation supervisor
Once a year, the Pasco County school district participates in an annual survey to see how often school buses get passed by vehicles while the bus red lights are flashing and the stop arms are extended.
This year's results shocked transportation maintenance supervisor Tad Kledzik.
"Number of Pasco County motorists that failed to yield for loading buses last Monday: FIVE HUNDRED AND NINETY in 1 day!" Kledzik posted Friday on his department's Twitter account. "Your thoughts?"
"Obviously, this is of great concern to the district," said Kledzik, noting that the number was up from a year earlier. "Unfortunately, we know that acts such as this could result in the loss of a child."
The district takes several precautions to make sure that its warning signals operate properly, he explained. District workers regularly test the flashing lights to see whether they're red enough and flashing brightly enough. They replace fading stop signs and unbend skewed stop arms.
"There's little that I can do beyond making sure ... everything functions the way that it should," Kledzik said. "We know that they things function."
The problem, he said, is the disconnect with drivers.
State law already makes passing a stopped bus illegal. The fines are $165 for a pass on the left side and $265 for a pass on the more dangerous right side, where children get on and off. Drivers can have their license suspended for subsequent violations within five years. Still, hundreds of motorists disregard the buses as they stop to pick up and drop off children.
A 2011 national report indicated that more than 8,900 stop-arm violations were recorded throughout Florida on a typical school day.
Kledzik said he is searching for ways to get these numbers down, knowing that the flashing lights and stop arms provide "the only method we have" to alert drivers to be careful.
"I need all the help in the world I can get," he said.
He's contacted law enforcement to determine how many citations for illegal bus passing have been issued in past years. He's also asked for more support to reduce the numbers.
Waiting for a pedestrian death to act simply isn't good enough, Kledzik said. "As a community, we can certainly do better when it comes to yielding to our students."