Buses are rolling, so be ready to STOP


    White Oak Lane at the northern edge of the county along US 27 is hidden around a curve as you head south. While the road gives its families privacy and gorgeous scenery year-round, it is also one of the more dangerous intersections in our county. Improvements along this national highway have benefitted travelers for years, but it has also lent to speed in spite of its 55 MPH limit. Speed and hidden driveways do not mix well with personal vehicles, but add a school bus into the mix, and the results make parents’ hearts stop.
    Ask Leah Voet. Her chilren’s school bus had a near miss last February. As they were getting off the bus that day, a dump truck came around the curve and passed the bus, crossing the yellow line into the northbound lane to do so. While reports say the driver slowed, it passed the bus while the bus had its stop sign out and its lights flashing as a warning to stop. The truck reportedly nearly missed a car going north, as well.
    Voet relived that moment for days afterward. “My heart sinks. I don’t want my kids getting hurt. I’m not sleeping.” And she defends the bus driver. “Marvin Dawson did all he could.”
    For Voet, this is not an isolated incident. She has seen vehicles pass her children’s bus more than once, possibly as much as once a week.
    Matt Compton, Director of Transportation for the Pendleton County School District, believes that the number of incidents are higher on US 27 than anywhere in the county, but bus drivers from other routes reported similar experiences with similar consistencies that Voet described. Multiple times a week, multiple buses in the county are passed by vehicles as they are stopped with their warning lights flashing. Cameras give a testimonyto just how often this occurs, but the problem rests on one important factor: bus drivers and witnesses can report these infractions and even have video, but if no one can give dispatch a license number, authorities can do little.
    Also, the question was posed: are the same drivers passing the buses multiple times a week? The answer was that the drivers are not habitual offenders. The offenders are random.
    “People have become complacent,” Voet feels. “They have no regard.”
    As far as the dump truck that frightened her so severely, she even took matters into her own hands. She had the company and the truck number. She tried three different numbers to reach the owner of the trucking company, and all were disconnected. “I feel like I’m being ignored,” she stated.
    According to its website, the Kentucky School Boards Association surveyed several of the state’s districts regarding violations of the law regarding stopped buses. The survey took place in April 2018. That year, 2,667 school buses reported 728 passes. Nationally, observers recorded 83,944 illegal passes of 108,623 buses in 38 states during the survey. The Kentucky Office of Highway Safety worked on educating the public about the actual laws are in Kentucky. While they agreed that people are distracted and complacent, they also realized that some confusion may also be a problem.
    Voet and her mother Ramona Williams were willing to give the drivers some credit in that they also wondered how confused people are by the law regarding when passing a school bus is allowed and when it is not. It is a fair question. Each state has its own laws regarding encountering school and church buses on roads. In Kentucky, the only time a driver may legally pass a school or church bus that is stopped with its lights flashing is when that driver is traveling in the opposite direction on a road that has four or more lanes. Violators can be fined $100 to $200 for a first offense and can receive 30 to 60 days in jail. Subsequent offenses within three years can receive a $300 to $500 fine and 60 days to 6 months in jail for passing a bus that has its warning lights as stop arm activated.
    What is just as important to know is that a traveler needs to check the laws regarding school and church buses in other states before visiting them. Other states are sometimes more stringent in their expectations regarding school buses, and they are often more aggressive in their penalties, as well.
    Compton agrees that drivers may be confused. “I don’t believe, for the most part, that anyone intends to pass a stopped bus. Usually, I think the person is distracted or does not understand the laws regarding buses.”
    He is alarmed, though, that our county and state are not the only ones seeing an uptick in the number of incidents regarding stopped buses. “We’re seeing it more and more across the country. Maybe we are drawing more attention to the problem now than we once did. Maybe we are becoming more aware of the rules regarding buses.”
    But he assures that he and his office take all calls seriously.
    “Student safety is our top priority. We train our drivers annually as to how to handle violations. The driver makes a report, and the Kentucky Department of Education gets a copy of it. So does the local sheriff. The tough part is that when it happens it is hard to get all the information. If someone else sees it, we ask them to try to get the license of the vehicle and its make and model, and then we ask them to call our office to report. We can go from there.”