As students get set to return to classes next week, officials with the Saline Area Schools Operations Department are urging drivers to be cautious as district buses once again hit the streets.
Operations Specialist Tracey Mulcare said she and Director of Operations Rex Clary are new to their respective transportation roles this year, and have been actively working to promote school bus safety and awareness since coming on board.
“For the start of the year we really want to have people informed,” Mulcare said. “We know there is a lot of confusion about what the bus lights mean and when they’re stopping.”
Yard signs with the phrase “Red Means Stop,” which remind drivers of their obligation around school buses loading and unloading children, are one of the key pieces of the initiative.
“We’ve got these signs and we put them out Monday morning. We have them throughout town and at all the school buildings,” Mulcare said. “We have several people that run our lights every year, so we’re kicking off this safety campaign.”
Bus drivers will also be wearing shirts that say “Stop for a Life.”
Mulcare said there is no ambiguity in terms of drivers’ responsibility around a stopped school bus.
“When the flashing yellow lights come on, that indicates the bus is getting ready to make a stop. They (bus drivers) usually do it 200 feet before a stop and it’s not okay to pass, it’s just a warning they are going to slow down,” she said. “But it is absolutely illegal, once the red flashing lights and that stop sign come out, to pass the bus because there’s a good possibility that kids will be crossing the road.”
District bus drivers follow a 17-step procedure at every flashing red light stop.
Michigan law states drivers “shall not proceed until the school bus resumes motion or the visual signs are no longer actuated.”
Those who disregard the law face stiff penalties including a fine of between $100 and $500, three license points and up to 100 hours of community service at a school.
The district keeps in close contact with local police, according to Mulcare, and appropriate mechanisms are in place to report problematic activity.
“We have forms that the drivers fill out and we have a very good relationship with both the Saline PD and Pittsfield PD, but especially Saline PD,” she said. “We have Officer Dave (Ringe) and he’s always willing to help us out if we’re having a continuing problem, and he’ll follow a bus or do whatever he needs to do.”
Saline Area Schools participated in a one-day national survey on May 11 to record the number of times drivers illegally passed stopped school buses. The annual endeavor is orchestrated by The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation.
Mulcare said district bus drivers witnessed six people illegally passing that day, and 29 license plates were reported to police over the course of the school year.
State of Michigan bus drivers reported 542 illegal passes on the single day in May, while there were 74,421 reported nation-wide.
Mulcare said new buses purchased by the district this year include LED strobe light technology to further increase visibility, but added it is the obligation of each and every motorist to help keep children safe whenever a school bus comes to a stop.
The following school bus safety tips were provided by the Michigan State Police:
School bus safety tips for drivers:
- Prepare to stop when a slowing bus has its overhead yellow lights flashing
- Stop at least 20 feet away for buses when red lights are flashing, unless driving in the opposite direction on a divided highway
- Slow down in or near school and residential areas
- Look for clues-such as safety patrols, crossing guards, bicycles, and playgrounds-that indicate children might be in the area
- Watch for children between parked cars and other objects
School buses are like traffic signals
- When overhead lights are flashing yellow: Prepare to stop
- When overhead lights are flashing red: Stop
- When hazard warning lights are flashing: Proceed with caution
School bus safety tips for students:
- Always stay in sight of the bus driver
- Don't hurry off the bus; check traffic first
- Don't go back to the bus after exiting