Obey the laws, increase school bus safety

Moving violations, that is, breaking the law while driving your car is very serious when it comes to violating the laws relating to school buses.

According to Captain Gerald Netherland, Special Operations Division of the Chesterfield County Police, the violation and its fines can be substantial.

“According to Section 46.2-859 of the Code of Virginia, a driver who violates a law involving a school bus is charged with reckless driving,” Capt. Netherland said. But he said it’s not just the fine for the violation or the reckless driving citation on your record, there are serious repercussions if someone is hurt.

Netherland said that to his knowledge no one has been hurt by this type of infraction.

Consider four children standing in their parent’s driveway waiting for the school bus. As the bus approaches drivers can see the buses amber lights breaking through the early morning light. The amber warning light, as the bus slows, switches to red, alerting drivers that the bus has stopped when the door is opened. A signal arm swings from the side of the bus further indicating that school children will be entering or exiting the bus.

A car races by the bus in the opposite direction. The road has a turning lane between the two major lanes and the driver either doesn’t know that by law that he should stop, he thinks he can weave around the kids if they run out or he just doesn’t care.

The traffic law states that if a bus stops to load or unload children, traffic behind the bus and oncoming traffic must stop, no matter how many lanes or turning lanes the road has. According to the law, the only time a car can pass a bus without stopping is if there is a physical barrier between the operator of the car and the stopped bus.

Tom and Ruth Tennille have seen cars passing the bus that picks up their grandchildren and a neighbor’s children and it scares them to death, they say.

Mr. Tennille witnessed his grandson exit the bus one afternoon. On the bus driver’s side a car had properly come to a stop. A young lady in an SUV approached but wasn’t paying attention, although going the speed limit she was headed for the rear end of the car stopped at the bus. According to Tennille the driver had three choices: rear end the car in front of her, drive into the ditch or drive through the turning lane between the car in front of her and the bus.

“After passing between the stopped car and the bus, the SUV came to a stop about 250 feet down the road and sat there for [a number of minutes] … very upset and holding up traffic,” Tennille said. “We too were very upset and angry… That’s when we started calling Chesterfield Police.”

The police department assigned two officers to sit at the bus stop when they had time. Eight citations have been issued since Officers Fisher and Hayes have been watching the bus load and unload.

Officer Fisher said he saw “violations the first week of school,” he continued. “This is not a local problem, this is countywide.”

Two years ago, Governor Bob McDonnell signed a bill that increased the penalty for motorists who illegally pass school buses.

“The foremost obligation of government is public safety, and protecting our younger citizens so that they may focus on their education is a moral obligation of all Virginians,” Gov. McDonnell said.

Tennille said that just the presence of the police officers watching out for the school children has made a difference and has also slowed down speeders. “Some of us on Centralia Road want to have the speed limit lowered to 35 mph on Centralia Road from Chester to Chalkley Road,” Tennille said.

The bus drivers are not the problem, “We have three or four great drivers – the safety issues we have here are with the unconcerned motorist and not the school system or our bus stop location,” Tennille said. “If you break a very noble and important law and put some child in danger, that’s your reckless decision, and hopefully you won’t have to suffer the consequences. We pray that no child is ever hurt while going to and from school.” Tennille said.

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