As reluctant as most students are to accept the end of summer vacation, for most Georgia counties the arrival of August signals it's time to go back to school. This means motorists must once again be aware of precious cargo commuting to school on our roadways. It's time to share the road with big yellow school buses and watch for shorter pedestrians crossing crowded intersections. It's time to "Avoid Harm, Obey the Stop Arm."
While there is plenty of back-to-school safety advice to keep in mind, some of the most important tips tell us how to travel safely near school buses when they're picking up or dropping off students. This is so important that Georgia law tells us what to do when a school bus activates its swing-arm stop sign and red flashing lights.
If there's a median between the traffic traveling in opposite directions, only vehicles traveling in the same direction as the school bus are required to stop when the bus stops. But if no median is present between traffic lanes heading in opposite directions, drivers on both sides of the roadway must stop when a school bus activates its swing-arm stop sign and red flashing lights to load or unload passengers. Passing is also prohibited on either side of a school bus during passenger pick-up or drop-off.
Buses are an extremely safe way to get our kids to and from school. Every motorist needs to realize that no matter how late we're running or how much we want to grab that cup of coffee on the way to work, we must obey the law and stop for school buses. Failing to stop can result in a preventable tragedy.
As a motorist, being aware of your surroundings is always advised, but here are more helpful back-to-school safety tips for the motoring public to prepare for back-to-school traffic:
· When a school bus prepares to stop to load or unload children, the bus driver will activate flashing yellow lights. When other motorists see these lights, all vehicles approaching the bus should slow down and be prepared to stop.
· Pay close attention to children who may be walking along the road, crossing the road or waiting alongside it.
· Once stopped, motorists should remain stopped until the bus resumes motion or deactivates its warning signal and all passengers have cleared the roadway.
· Motorists should be prepared to react to unexpected movements of students waiting for their bus.. Children don't always follow standard pedestrian safety rules. Slow Down. Save a Life!
· Resist distractions in school zones and near bus stops.. Driving is your most important job behind the wheel. Pay attention.
· When approaching railroad tracks behind a school bus, wait until the bus is completely across the tracks and there's room on the other side for another vehicle to safely clear the tracks before proceeding.
Though court fees may vary by jurisdiction for the unlawful passing of a school bus, other fines and penalties apply statewide. A conviction for unlawful passing of a school bus carries six driver's license points for all motorists. However, drivers under age 21 receive an automatic six-month license suspension if found guilty of any traffic offense that incurs four or more points.
We all must pay the utmost attention to the road whether we're heading to work, heading to school, or just dropping by the grocery store or post office. Paying attention to our surroundings is that much more important now that the new school year is upon us. And remember to Avoid Harm, Obey the Stop Arm.
For more information on traffic laws about school bus safety, visit the Georgia Department of Driver Services Web site at www.dds.ga.gov to access the 2009 Driver's Manual. For more information on school bus safety, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov or the National Association for Pupil Transportation at www.napt.org .
Georgia Governor's Office of Highway Safety