With nearly 180 buses running Williamsburg-James City County students to and from school, parents expect that their children are in safe hands.
But it’s not the school division causing concern for school bus safety—it’s the other drivers.
“When a bus is pulled off to pick up students, other cars should stop. It’s just the law,” said Belinda Mathias, grandparent of a WJCC student. “But when I drive to work, I see people just get frustrated and drive around.”
Virginia code states that, “A person driving a motor vehicle shall stop such vehicle when approaching, from any direction, any school bus which is stopped on any highway, private road or school driveway for the purpose of taking on or discharging children.” The cars are to remain stopped until all of the riders are clear off the road and the bus is put in motion.
Violating this code means drivers can face fines and marks on their driving record, said James City County spokeswoman Stephanie Williams. Yet, residents like Mathias still see cars passing by buses regularly.
Williams said other motorists should take down the license plate number if they see anyone breaking this law and that a driver can be charged if a witness is willing to testify.
But Mathias said sometimes there are just too many cars all at once to take down everyone’s information, especially at highly-traffic stops, like those near Premium Outlets.
“When it’s on a highway I see it more,” she said. “People will stop the first time, then the second time people start to get in the passing lane and by the third stop four or five cars are passing when the blinking lights are on.”
Eileen Cox, spokeswoman for WJCC schools, said bus stops are monitored annually for safety and efficiency and bus driver safety training covers reporting violations, such as passing cars, to the division’s dispatch office.
The division encourages parents to wait with their children at bus stops in the morning to ensure safety.
For kindergartners, an older guardian is required to be present at the bus stop in the morning and afternoon. If the child’s designated guardian isn’t available when the child is dropped off in the afternoon, then the student will not get off at the stop and the bus will transport the student back to the school until someone can get them, Cox said.
These precautions help parents to keep a closer eye on their students, but Mathias sees it more as an issue with the cars surrounding the buses.
“If one or two people got caught, word would get out and people would stop,” she said. “It’s tough to cover everywhere, though. It’s a large area.”
Cox said the school is looking into other possibilities to address the issue as well. One of the solutions that is being considered is using strobe lights on bus bumpers that would flash when the bus is stopped or the use of a second stop arm.
Those ideas are just in the exploratory phase rights now, Cox said, and would have to be considered during the budget development process.
In the meantime, school buses continue to stop along busy roads and drivers like Mathias remain concerned as they see cars pass by the flashing lights.
“If it was their child I’m sure they would want the drivers to stop,” she said. “Why wouldn’t you have the respect for someone else’s child as you would your own?”