CHARLESTON, W.Va. – 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 year.
The startling statistics 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 have joined the West Virginia Department of Education in increasing awareness and the dangers.
“School bus transportation is the safest way to get children to school each day,” said West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple. “Yet, when motorists fail to obey the law, they endanger the lives of our children, our drivers and themselves. We must do everything we can to make sure our children are safe.”
From April 30 to May 4, State Police troopers plan to board buses on various routes statewide in an effort to catch law breakers and raise public awareness. In addition, members of the West Virginia Oil Marketers and Grocers Association will post public service announcement posters at their convenience stores.
"The West Virginia State Police is pleased to be working with the Department of Education in an attempt to identify motorists who are displaying a willful disregard for the safety of our children,” said State Police Colonel C. R. "Jay" Smithers. “I am urging motorists to be aware of their surroundings and always use common sense behind the steering wheel of a vehicle. Don’t allow inattentiveness or recklessness to be the reason that a law enforcement officer has to inform parents that their child has received either severe or fatal injuries."
West Virginia school buses travel more than 41 million miles each year, transporting about 230,000 students each day to school safely and reliably. Across the country, school buses provide more than 10 billion passenger trips each year.
“OMEGA members are proud to partner with the West Virginia Department of Education to help inform our customers – the motoring public – about the importance of driving safely around school buses. We serve our neighbors daily at our stores and want to keep our neighborhoods safe. When you see a school bus, be patient and never drive around it when the lights are flashing. This is a serious issue and we are happy to do our part in helping spread the word.”
The West Virginia Legislature has strengthened state law with legislation dubbed “Haven’s Law,” named for 6-year-old Haven McCarthy, who was killed in 2007 after getting off the school bus in Lincoln County. Now, drivers who don’t stop for a stopped school bus can be charged with a felony. A driver who causes an injury faces up to three years in prison; a driver who kills someone can be sentenced to 10 years in prison. The law also increased fines for drivers who violate the school bus safety laws and introduced the potential for drivers to lose their license. Drivers who simply fail to stop can receive a misdemeanor and be jailed for up to six months.
For more information contact the WVDE Communications Office at 304-558-2699.