GUEST COLUMN • Be Extra Alert When You See A School Bus

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Through winding country roads and on our city streets, school buses are on the move. 

Summer break has ended and schools are back in session.  These buses are carrying a precious cargo: our children. Each day, parents watch their children board that big yellow bus in the morning and are trusting that the person behind the wheel will get them to school and then back home safely. I can assure you that our bus drivers take this responsibility very seriously. We are ready. How about you?

Studies have proven that the most dangerous part of the school bus ride for children is when they get on and off the bus. There are certain procedures that the bus driver must follow when loading and unloading students. With the intention of alerting other motorists, all buses are equipped with amber flashing signal lights that the driver activates when approaching a student stop. When stopped the red signal lamps will flash and a stop-signal sign and crossing arm will be extended automatically from the bus. 

This is where you come in. While driving, you should be extra alert when you see a school bus on the streets. Many times, as our drivers approach a bus stop with the signal lights flashing, they will watch cars speed up to get past the bus so that they will not have to wait while a child boards or exits the bus. These lights are flashing to alert you to show caution and be prepared to stop. In many cases children may have to cross the street at their stop and it is impossible to know what a young child may do, even though they have been told not to cross until instructed by the bus driver. Illinois law requires other motorists to stop whenever the stop-signal sign on a school bus is extended and the red signal lamps are flashing. The law specifies that all traffic traveling in both directions on a one or two lane roadway must stop. An exception to this stop law is only when the driver is on a highway with four or more lanes with at least two lanes of traffic in either direction, the driver traveling in the opposite direction of the bus does not have to stop. However, caution should still be observed. 

Motorists should be aware that the bus driver will call police with the license plate number and description of vehicles that illegally pass their bus. In those instances, state statute provides that the owner is responsible for identifying the operator of the vehicle if they were not the driver when the violation occurred. Otherwise, the owner will face the charges, fines and any other punishment. 

Most drivers obey this law and on behalf of all of those who drive a bus, we thank you for helping us to look after the children. For those motorists who choose to disobey this law, I ask you to think about all who will suffer if you hit a child with your vehicle. Please have the drivers in your household or workplace read this letter and talk about it with them. Our bus drivers and the police are watching out for our children. We hope everyone else will do the same. 

Let's make this a safe school year.

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