Three Collegedale Police Department officers were recently applauded for leading an initiative that has sought to make the city a little bit safer for children getting on or off school buses.
Since the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, Officer David Schilling, Officer Brighton Spain and Cpl. Sheila Strange have been working to crack down on motorists who cruise past stopped school buses, despite the flashing lights and extended "stop" arm directing them to halt.
The push was made possible due to a partnership with Hamilton County Schools' Transportation Department, which supplied the officers with bus route schedules and timetables, making it easier for them to monitor drop-offs and pickups to catch drivers who ignore the stop signs in the act.
"To us, it's just unacceptable to run the school bus lights, because the stakes are too high," said Strange. " Elementary school-aged children, if they drop their backpack and papers fly, they're going to run directly out into the street to chase them. They don't stop to think about it. So it's up to the drivers to pay attention, be aware and stop for the school bus lights when they're loading and unloading children."
Drivers disregarding the stop arm on school buses have long been a problem throughout the area, with Hamilton County bus drivers counting 212 violators in a single day while participating in a statewide effort to collect data on the issue back in 2013.
In addition to being notified about the problem by the county's department of education, Collegedale officers were spurred into action around the same time that three siblings in Fulton County, Indiana, were hit and killed by a passing truck while boarding a school bus. Indiana State Police confirmed that the bus' stop sign was extended at the time of the crash, local news organizations reported.
"It was terrible. The mother lost all [three] of her children in one fell swoop," said Strange, who has three children of her own. "I'm a mother, so that went straight to my heart, and I thought, 'That is not going to happen here.'"
Since beginning the initiative, more than 40 drivers have been cited to court for passing stopped school buses inside Collegedale city limits.
In many cases, the violation stemmed from a lack of awareness, Strange said. One of the sites where many of those citations were distributed was Apison Pike, where a five-lane road has proven problematic for motorists not familiar with Tennessee law regarding school buses.
"Some people were unaware that they would have to stop on a road that wide, but the law states that if there's not a concrete barrier or a grass barrier dividing the lanes, you have to stop for the school bus in both directions," Strange explained.
In several other cases, drivers cited for passing school buses said they didn't see the bus — which Strange believes is a likely indicator of distracted driving.
"We couldn't prove that, but Detective [Brandon] Allen drives school buses as well, and he sees it on a regular basis," she said. "People just don't pay any attention to the school bus because they're on an electronic device in their car."
Since kicking off the effort, Strange said she's seen a decrease in the number of motorists ignoring the buses' stop arms. At the beginning, she estimated, it wasn't uncommon for her to see half a dozen cars drive past a stopped school bus at one time. Now, she said, she is likely to catch only about one to three perpetrators over the course of the day.
Though there's still more work to be done, Strange believes the city has taken a step in the right direction due to the joint efforts of the education department and local police, and said she's hoping law enforcement officials in other jurisdictions will be inspired to crack down on the problem, as well.
Email Myron Madden at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE LAW IN TENNESSEE
When the red lights are flashing and the stop arm is extended, this indicates that the bus has stopped and that children are now getting on or off the bus. Motorists must stop their cars and wait until the red flashing lights are turned off, the stop arm is withdrawn, and the bus begins moving before they start driving again. When a school bus is stopped at an intersection to load and unload children, drivers from all directions are required to stop until the bus resumes motion. When driving on a highway with separate roadways for traffic in opposite directions, divided by a median space or a barrier not suitable for vehicular traffic, the driver need not stop, but should proceed with caution.
THE LAW IN GEORGIA
Once the flashing lights have turned red and the stop signs have extended from the side of the bus, it is unlawful for any vehicle to pass the stopped school bus while it is loading or unloading passengers. On a highway divided by a median, cars traveling on the opposite side from the stopped school bus are not required to stop.
Source: National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services