Mexico Public Schools Director of Transportation Curt Jackson says not a day passes that he or a driver doesn't witness a motorist haphazardly pass a stopped school bus, risking the lives of countless children as they get on and off the bus.
"Stop arm violations are one of our major problems; we normally have at least 2-3 incidents that occur each day," Jackson told The Mexico Ledger last Wednesday. "Just this morning, I saw two – one at the Hart Career Center and another at Eugene Field."
On April 17th, Jackson said his drivers reported five violations, and that a total of 15 incidents have occurred and been reported this school year. He also noted that many go unreported, because the bus driver is unable to get all of the pertinent information needed to file a complaint without jeopardizing the safety of the students.
Jackson said these numbers are pretty consistent – and frightening. "And, if something doesn't change, they will continue to grow."
Jackson thinks a refresher on the rules of the road (when it comes to passing stopped school buses) may be needed to bring more awareness to the problem.
He said some of the most common bus safety violations occur:
• When a bus is flashing its yellow lights. These flashing lights (located at the top front and rear of the bus) mean the bus driver is preparing to stop.
• When a bus is flashing its red lights, also located on the top front of the bus, means the driver has already stopped and is preparing to activate the stop arm for student crossing.
• When the stop arm is extended, this means students are loading or being discharged from the bus – which means motorists "must stop" and wait for the stop arm to be lifted indicating that all of the children have loaded or unloaded and crossed safely.
Jackson said a bus driver is authorized to report any motorist that commits a school bus related violation. Tickets and fines are generally assessed in these cases. However, if a child is hit, criminal charges could be added to the motorist's offenses.
"Our number one goal is to get the kids to school and home safely, with the least amount of distractions as possible," Jackson said.
Monday through Friday, the district's fleet of 18 route buses transport some 1,100 children to and from school; this number does not include after-school activities. Jackson said the Mexico School District, to his knowledge, has no history of accidents or incidents involving a student and a school bus. But he warns that the problem does exist. "We've just been lucky that it hasn't happened here," Jackson said.
Jackson said local law enforcement works well with the school district to help address school bus traffic violations. Since January, Mexico Public Safety Department has issued 14 tickets for stop arm violations. Data was not readily available for the Audrain County Sheriff's Department and the Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop F, however officials at both agencies said they work with the school districts, and all reports provided by the schools are investigated.
Page 2 of 2 - Some of the problem areas for school bus violations in Audrain County include: Hwy. 22, the Oakcrest and Union School Road area, Eastbound 54 south of Mexico, McMillan and Eugene Field elementary schools, areas west of Mexico, and basically "anywhere a bus stops," Jackson said.
Jackson is currently researching a stop-arm violation notification and reporting system that links resolution video and data to each incident and uploads the report automatically. The district also took part in a recent national survey to determine the prevalence of illegal passing of school buses and improve safety countermeasures on the state and national level. Those results have yet to be released.
"We train our school bus drivers to do all they can to avoid accidents and keep students safe. They are our top priority," Jackson said. He also noted that it is imperative the district also train students in safe school bus practices. He noted the School Bus Safety Committee has created three outstanding training programs designed just for students.
"We all need to do whatever we can to keep the kids safe … and to help to do that, we need motorists to be more aware and attentive to the rules and regulations," he said.