Drivers reminded to be cautious in and around school zones

TAYLOR COUNTY—Back to School time is right around the corner, and while families are preparing for the new academic year, there is one thing they can do that will have a big impact.

Students will return with a staggered start this year beginning on Tuesday, September 8, and while there won’t be as many youths to keep a lookout for, there will still be increased traffic and activity within school zones, as well as more buses on the roadways.

Local law enforcement officials are offering some advice for motorists; be cautious of your surroundings and watch for stopped buses picking up students.

“Even after the buses have stopped, individuals should be cautious and watch for kids,” shared Grafton Police Chief Robert Beltner. “Young children can be unpredictable, and you never know when or if they might run back out into the road after getting off the bus.” 

Beltner said that beginning on Tuesday, he will have an increased police presence in the school zones, while they are active.

“We just want to make sure that not only are the kids safe, but that other motorists are safe too,” he added.

Beltner would like to remind drivers to prepare for the upcoming start of the new school year by planning ahead, leaving early and staying alert on the roadways.

The National Safety Council (NSC) urges all drivers to follow posted school zone speeds, and to be extra cautious of slower moving drivers.

According to the National Safe Routes to School program, more children are hit by cars in or near school zones than any other location. 

The NSC offers tips for parents dropping off their students in designated school zones. They say parents should not double park in these areas because it blocks visibility for other children and vehicles.

In addition, children should not be dropped off across the street from a school, and parents should try to carpool when possible, to reduce the number of vehicles at the school.

According to research by the NSC, most of the children who lose their lives in bus-related incidents are 4-7 years old, and they're walking, and are hit by either the bus or by motorists attempting to pass a school bus.

When following school buses, individuals should increase the distance between their vehicle and the bus, in the event of a sudden stop. In addition, passing a school bus is illegal and can result in some serious penalties.

“Don’t try to rush through a school bus stop sign,” Beltner said. “Buses are equipped with cameras to catch driver's ignoring the safety signals, and violators can, and will, be fined.”

West Virginia State Code states that any individual who passes a school bus, while the flashing warning signal lights and stop sign are present, will be charged with a misdemeanor, and can be punished with fines up to $500, as well as jail time of up to six months. 

If serious injury results from passing a school bus, the driver will be charged with a felony, and could be jailed for up to three years, along with having to pay fines upwards of $2,000.

“Drivers just need to remember to be a little more cautious and prepared for the increased activity in and near school zones. There will be more children near the roadways,” Beltner reminded. “We want to make sure that everyone has a safe and happy school year, from day one, so we are urging motorists to pay attention their surroundings while driving.”

For this year’s bus schedule, please see pages B2, B3 and B4 in this edition of the Mountain Statesman.