Every school day bright yellow school buses transport 35,000 children to and from 78 traditional public schools across Pasco County. Turns out, some of those students are at risk from hundreds of ignorant, aggressive or distracted drivers who routinely pass by stopped buses' standard safety features: red flashing lights and extended mechanical arms that say "Stop.''
A Pasco School District survey, conducted by bus drivers on May 7, recorded 590 instances of motorists failing to yield to buses stopped to load or discharge children. It is an alarming number that mirrors poor driving patterns across the state. A 2011 national report said nearly 9,000 so-called stop-arm violations occur each school day in Florida.
Florida law states that when the stop arm is extended, motorists must stop and remain stopped until the arm is withdrawn. The law is applicable to all motorists traveling behind the bus. Drivers approaching from the opposite direction also must stop unless they are traveling on a road divided by a raised median or 5 feet of unpaved space.
The law's purpose is simple: Saving lives. The law ensures children have a safe path to travel when leaving or approaching a bus. Children being children, however, means youngsters don't always look out for their own safety before stepping into a road.
That is why it is imperative for adult motorists sharing the road with school buses to share the burden of responsibility for children's safety. The one-day survey, however, indicates hundreds of motorists believe their own schedules trump that responsibility.
Several years ago, the epidemic of irresponsible drivers brought stepped-up enforcement in Tarpon Springs. There, police personnel, equipped with videocameras, rode school buses to record motorists' violations. Officers stationed nearby in unmarked vehicles then issued the citations.
It is appalling that motorists fail to put a higher premium on children's safety, but the Pasco survey shows red flashing lights and stop bars aren't enough. The school district has asked for help and law enforcement should oblige.
Over the past 15 months, the Pasco Sheriff's Office issued 92 citations to drivers failing to stop for buses. Routinely, the agency steps up school-related traffic enforcement on the first day of class each August. Including today, there are 14 class days remaining in the 2011-2012 school year.
Considering the abandon with which motorists are ignoring the stopped bus warnings, it would be wise to re-enforce safety standards near bus stops and schools.
The bus drivers' observations recorded in the district survey show the closing days of the school year can be just as hazardous as the beginning.