An ounce of prevention: State, local officials remind drivers to watch for school buses as school year begins

by Cristin Parker

Students across Cherokee County started school during the last few days and with those “dear old golden rule” days now in full swing, motorists need to remember to watch out for buses and school zones.

The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) cautions drivers to slow down through school zones; put away the cell phones whilst in the school pick-up lines; and to be aware of children walking to and from school or waiting for buses.

“With school districts across Texas returning to classes, DPS is urging drivers to be alert in school zones and wherever children are present,” DPS Director Steven McCraw said in a recent statement provided by the DPS office. “Motorists who disregard the law and illegally pass stopped school buses put our schoolchildren in harm’s way – and that reckless and irresponsible behavior will not be tolerated by DPS.”

The DPS reports the moments as students are entering or exiting a school bus are some of the most dangerous times during a child’s trip. Therefore, drivers need to be especially alert and careful around school buses, as they make frequent stops, and always follow traffic laws regarding school buses and school zones.

“The Rusk Police Department was out in force for the first day of school (Monday),” Rusk Police Chief Joe Williams said. “And we’ll continue to provide presence within all our school zones for the duration of the first week of school, to help keep everyone safe.”

Traffic records indicate the start of the school year usually generates an overall increase in traffic in areas around school campuses, so drivers should take extra precautions.

“When my mother was 13 years old, she was riding the bus home from school one afternoon and about to get off at her stop,” Rusk ISD No. 18 bus driver Gary Hudson shared. “The bus driver had opened the door for her to exit the bus when he noticed a log truck coming around the right side of the bus on the shoulder of the road and would not stop. Her bus driver shut the door, just before she was able to step off the bus and into the path of the log truck. IF not for her bus driver’s quick reaction, she would have been killed and I, my sister and her daughter would not be here today! Moral of the story, when you see a big yellow school bus with big red flashing lights and stop signs, please stop. We all have places we need to be, but our children are our future! Their lives and their lineage are at stake. My mother knows this first hand. So, to all the motorists out there, please stop for the children’s sake, and parents, be thankful for your child’s bus driver

State law mandates drivers stop when a bus is stopped and operating a visual signal – either red flashing lights or a stop sign. Drivers should not proceed until either the school bus resumes motion; drivers are signaled to proceed by the bus driver; or the bus’s visual signals are no longer activated.

In Cherokee County, some buses load and unload along U.S. Highways 69 and 84.

DPS regulations state “approaching drivers do not have to stop for a school bus that is operating a visual signal if the roadway is separated by a physical barrier or an intervening space. If a highway is divided only by a left-turning lane, the roadways are not considered separated, and drivers must stop for school buses.”
School buses are also required by law to stop at all railroad crossings.

Drivers who illegally pass school buses face fines up to $1,250 for the first offense. Anyone convicted of this offense more than once may have their driver’s license suspended for up to six months. A ticket for illegally passing a school bus cannot be dismissed through defensive driving. Additionally, this offense could potentially include criminal charges if they cause serious bodily injury to another.

The website, reports an estimated 50 children are backed over every week in the U.S. because the driver could not see them.

“Back-overs take place mainly in driveways and parking lots and in 70 percent of these incidents, a parent or close relative is behind the wheel, and 60 percent of back-overs involve a larger vehicle (truck, van or SUV),” the website states. “Children younger than 5 years of age are most at risk, but children of all ages can be backed over.”