LAURINBURG —Scotland County schools reopen next week, but Sheriff Ralph Kersey already has a lesson to impart about getting there safely.
Kersey said students, parents and motorists all have all have a role in keeping children safe while on or around the school bus.
According to the sheriff, more school-aged pedestrians have been killed between the hours of 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. than any other time of day. Research by the National Safety Council states that most of the children who lose their lives in bus-related incidents are 4 to 7 years old, and they’re walking. They are hit by the bus, or by a motorist illegally passing a stopped bus.
Kersey added that parents should drive their child’s bus route with them to practice proper safety precautions to and from school.
“Children are often eager to get off the school bus because they are excited to tell their parents about all of the fun they had at school that day,” Kersey said. “It is crucial that parents re-enforce the school bus safety rules children learn at school.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an average of 19 school-aged children die in school transportation-related traffic crashes each year. In North Carolina, 13 students have been killed by divers failing to stop to for school buses since 1999.
“Never pass a school bus when there are flashing red lights and the stop arm is extended or you will be fined at least $500 and charged with a class 1 misdemeanor,” Kersey said. “This is a sign that children are getting on or off the bus.”
He said motorists need to wait until the red lights stop flashing, the stop arm is withdrawn, and the bus is moving before starting to drive again.
A motorist charged with striking a student exiting a school bus with it’s stop sign extended, will face class 1 felony and $1,250 fine.
“Remember that children are unpredictable in their actions. Take extreme caution when traveling in a school zone,” Kersey said. “If there are no sidewalks, drive cautiously. Be more alert to the possibility of children walking in the road.”
Members of the state Highway Patrol will be monitoring school bus traffic during the first few weeks of school.
“Although school buses represent the safest form of highway transportation, there are a number of safety factors of which both student and drivers should be aware,” Kersey said.
Here are some tips for parents and students:
— Always arrive at the bus stop at least 5 minutes early.
— While the bus is approaching make sure to stand at least three giant steps away from the curb and wait until the bus has come to a complete stop, the door opens, and the bus driver says that it’s OK to board.
— Always walk on the sidewalk when preparing to cross the street near a bus. Make eye contact with the driver so that you are sure he or she sees you.
— Never walk behind the bus.
— If you are walking beside the bus, walk at least three giant steps away.
— Use the handrail when entering and exiting the bus. Take extra precautions to make sure that clothing with drawstrings and book bags do not get caught in the hand rail or door.
— Never stop to pick something up that you have dropped when a bus is stopped. Tell the bus driver or wait until the bus has driven off to avoid not being seen by the driver.
Nolan Gilmour can be reached at 910-276-2311