CHARLESTON, W.Va. – About 26 percent of bus routes targeted by a week-long effort to stop motorists who illegally pass school buses ended Friday with multiple violators receiving tickets and fines.
Throughout the week, West Virginia State Police troopers boarded buses on 23 routes in 12 counties across the state: Berkeley, Cabell, Grant, Jefferson, Harrison, Kanawha, Mercer, Monongalia, Ohio, Raleigh, Randolph and Wood. Six of the routes reported incidents of motorists ignoring flashing red lights and the extended stop arm, according to data collected by the West Virginia Department of Education. Five tickets were issued. One violation occurred when a trooper was not on board.
Troopers in many counties said they were so concerned with the disrespect given to school buses by the public that they plan additional unannounced ride-a-longs and increased patrols to catch violators.
"We are appreciative of our partnership with the State Police and other organizations to keep our children safe,” said state Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple. “We cannot allow motorists to continue to put the lives of our children at risk of injury or death. When motorists fail to obey the law, they endanger the lives of our children, our drivers and themselves."
The safety sweep was prompted by a 2011 National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation survey of county transportation directors. The survey showed that about 600 motorists illegally pass stopped school buses every school day in West Virginia, putting the lives of schoolchildren at risk of injury or death about 120,000 times each school year.
Results of the 2012 survey conducted April 25 are still being collected. However, initial results show that the problem persists. In one day, Kanawha County reported 37 violations; Cabell County, 34; and Berkeley County, 27.
The startling statistics are what prompted the West Virginia Department of Education to reach out to other state agencies, law enforcement, businesses and media to address the problem. The West Virginia State Police, the Governor’s Highway Safety Program, the West Virginia Department of Transportation, the West Virginia Prosecuting Attorneys Institute, West Virginia Media, the West Virginia Oil Marketers and Grocers Association and others joined the West Virginia Department of Education in increasing awareness about the dangers.
“It’s disturbing to learn that as many as 600 motorists a day fail to stop for school buses loading and unloading students,” said State Police Col. C. R. "Jay" Smithers. “Our recent partnership with the West Virginia board of education has confirmed the fact that education and enforcement efforts must be continued if we are to provide a safer environment for West Virginia’s most valuable resources -- our children.”
State law allows for drivers who fail to stop when a school bus stops and flashes its warning lights to be charged with a felony if their actions result in injury or death. A driver who causes an injury faces up to three years in prison and a $2,000 fine. A driver who kills someone could be put in prison for up to 10 years and fined $3,000. Drivers who simply fail to stop can be fined $500, charged with a misdemeanor and jailed up to six months.
“Nearly 230,000 children safely travel about 46 million miles of roadway in West Virginia every year on about 3,000 school buses,” Marple said. “Yet their lives are endangered every time they get on or off a school bus and inpatient drivers fail to stop. I ask all motorists when they see flashing red lights, be smart, be patient and stop.”
The public awareness and safety campaign will continue with the placement of public service announcement posters at convenience stores statewide. In addition, law enforcement officers will continue to do ride-a-longs in problem areas.
For more information, contact the Office of Communication at 304-558-2699.