In recent years, Georgia has been among the nation’s leaders in one category where it would rather not set the pace: the highest number of school bus-related deaths.
With school back in session in Bibb County and across the midstate, authorities are trying to raise awareness about school bus safety.
Since 1995, nine children in Georgia have been killed while getting in or out of buses, said Katie Fallon, public information officer for the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. The office is working with Georgia first lady Sandra Deal to kick off a statewide initiative next week that will remind drivers that they can’t pass stopped school buses.
Drivers in all directions must stop if a bus has stopped, has activated its stop arm and turned on its safety light, according to state law. That rule does not apply, however, to traffic moving in the opposite direction if a road separated by a median.
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State leaders want to reach out to all motorists, not just teachers and parents.
Data from a one-day survey of counties across the state last year estimated that 7,349 vehicles passed school buses illegally, Fallon said.
“That’s where the danger comes in -- when kids are entering and exiting the school bus,” she said.
Bibb County sheriff’s Lt. Annette Horn is also trying to bring awareness to the issue in light of recent reports of school bus incidents in nearby communities.
Those who violate the law can face fines of up to $1,000, a court appearance and six points on their driving record, Horn said. Those younger than 21 could also get their licenses suspended if they’re convicted.
“School is now in session, and our main priority is to get our kids safely home and to school,” she said.
Bibb County school leaders are also exploring their options to improve safety.
Todd Harris, transportation director for the Bibb County school system, said the department aims to pitch a proposal to school board members -- possibly by the end of the semester -- about installing cameras on school buses.
Cameras could be installed on about 20 buses, Harris said. In all, the system runs 140 routes a day.
“It’s the direction we’re moving in,” he said.
This week, the Houston County school board tabled a decision to approve a contract with American Traffic Solutions to outfit buses with cameras to catch violators of no-passing laws.
The company would install the cameras, and the revenue from traffic citations would be split among the company, the school system and law enforcement.
Harris said the options he’s seen would work much the same way.
School bus safety has become “a real issue” in Georgia, he said. “We’re the leader in the nation with fatalities.”
Deal’s initiative will include a tour next week, with a 3 p.m. Monday stop at Howard High School. The event will also include representatives from the Georgia State Patrol and the Georgia Department of Education.