Drive carefully: School is in session

Drive carefully: School is in session

August 27th, 2010 in Opinion Times

It's that time of year again. School has started and thousands upon thousands of area youngsters have resumed the familiar morning and afternoon rite of getting to and from school. A few still walk or ride a bike, and others ride with a parent or share a carpool. Most, by far, ride a school bus. The return of the latter to area roads is a useful reminder to motorists that failure to honor school bus and school zone laws can be both dangerous and costly.

It is hazardous because even a moment of driver inattention can put kids' lives and safety at risk. It is costly to scofflaws because public safety officials rigorously enforce bus stop and school zone laws. The penalties attached to violations of such laws are quite stiff - and appropriately so.

Tough laws and strict enforcement can be a useful deterrent to illegal and dangerous behavior around school buses and in school zones. According to the Tennessee Highway Patrol, there has been a nearly 16 percent statewide decrease in the number of crashes in school zones between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. and between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. The number of untoward incidents around school buses is in decline in many areas, as well. Motorists, thankfully, seem to be increasingly aware of rules like stopping when a bus is picking up or discharging passengers. Still, there are those who fail or refuse to abide by the law.

In 2009, for example, state troopers handed out 5,445 citations in Tennessee school zones - 973 were for speeding, one for passing a stopped bus and the others for a variety of offenses. The THP is not the only agency in the state that enforces school zone and bus laws.

County and municipal law enforcement agencies issued thousands of additional citations within their jurisdictions. The overall number of violations strongly suggests that not all motorists accept the need to safely share the road with school buses or the necessity of being especially cautious when traveling in school zones. Public service campaigns to remind drivers of their responsibility, buttressed by highly visible crackdowns by the police, can help remedy that.

Hundreds of thousands of kids in Tennessee and Georgia ride school buses every day. Over the years, the buses have proved to be a safe and efficient way to get kids to and from school. Experts, in fact, report that the buses are almost eight times safer than passenger vehicles. Still, student safety is put at risk if motorists fail to follow the law. A timely reminder of that fact is always in order - particularly at the start of the school year.