Motorists: Obey school bus lights and signs
School bus driver Richard Pento has a message for Douglas County commuters: Obey the signs.
Pento said he has become increasingly concerned over the past few weeks about drivers who ignore school bus signals, particularly the “stop” sign and flashing red lights when the vehicle is loading or unloading children.
“It’s just a question of when you’re going to pull a kid out from under one of those cars,” said Pento. “Today, two people passed me while the bus was stopped and the lights were on.”
Pento believes the majority of the people who disobey the signs do so out of ignorance.
“When the bus driver puts on the red light and stops, traffic has to stop in all directions, at least 100 feet in front or back of the bus,” said Pento. “It doesn’t matter whether the driver of the other vehicles can see kids or not. We may be waiting for them to come out of the house. We also transport a number of handicapped children.”
Pento said his greatest fear and frustration come from drivers who pass on the right side when the school bus is stopped.
“I’ve had people go around the bus on the right hand side on the sidewalk,” Pento said. “That’s an insane person.”
Douglas County Sheriff’s Sgt. Lance Modispacher said drivers convicted of disobeying school bus signals are fined substantially.
“It you pass a school bus on the driver’s side while kids are getting on or off, it’s $155,” Modispacher said. “If you pass on the passenger side, that’s a $600 fine. It’s just a flagrant violation. We take it very seriously and so do the justice courts.”
The sheriff’s department relies on the school bus drivers to report violators, a practice that Pento said is difficult in addition to all his other responsibilities as a driver. Pento would like to see more patrol cars out in the morning and afternoons when the buses are running.
“We used to do that 15 years ago,” Modispacher said. “The problem is we’ve got the same number of patrolmen and double the population. We’re just spread too thin.”
Modispacher said he calls every driver who is reported by the school bus operator. When the school bus driver reports a violation and the officer doesn’t see it, the driver has to sign the complaint and go to justice court if the offender is prosecuted.
“What we generally do is handle it case by case,” he said. “I have great rapport with the bus drivers. I try to get a description of the vehicle, the driver and license plate number. With that information, I call the people on the telephone. Generally, it’s a case of not knowing the law and not paying attention rather than flagrant disobedience. They’re daydreaming or late to work.”
Modispacher said for the most part he gets apologies from the drivers he contacts. It it’s a youthful motorist, he contacts their parents.
“I tell them I’m not trying to get their kids in trouble, I just don’t want them to have a negative experience this early in their life. I have never called the same person twice.”
Modispacher also said a patrol car is made available in trouble spots, if the bus driver reports a repeat offender.
“I’ve got two school-age kids myself. That’s why I’m so concerned,” Pento said. “They’ve been in school all day, they’re not paying attention when they get off the bus. No matter what you tell them, their attention span is low. We’re at the mercy of the drivers to obey the law.”