While Monday's collision between a school bus and tractor-trailer rig did not involve illegal passing, it calls attention to the fact that a vast number of drivers do not obey laws regarding school bus safety.
The man driving the 18-wheeler told state troopers he saw the bus stopped at the train tracks, with its amber lights flashing, as required by state law, but he thought the bus had started moving again. The crash occurred around 6:10 a.m. Monday near Highway 301 on Veteran's Memorial Parkway. No children were on board, and the bus driver suffered minor injuries, reports stated.
Paul Webb, chief operations officer for Bulloch County Schools' Transportation Department, said there may be "one accident a year" in which someone runs into the back of a stationary school bus, but the instances of people passing school buses that are stopped are far more common.
"Across the state, it is almost to an epidemic level," he said Monday afternoon.
Sandra Deal, Gov. Nathan Deal's wife, brought awareness to the issue a few years ago when she traveled statewide to discuss the problem, Webb said. This led to the annual School Bus Safety Day, during which school systems monitor the number of violations of the "no passing law" that demands drivers stop when a school bus does.
In following the law, a school bus driver picking up children or dropping them off will come to a complete stop, open its doors, turn on its flashing amber lights and extend a stop sign from the side of the bus. Drivers on both sides of the road are required to stop and remain stopped until the lights go off, the door is closed, the stop sign is retracted and the bus begins to move.
At railroad crossings, bus drivers are also required to open the door and window, look both ways and listen for trains, even if there are no children present.
The law requiring motorists to stop for a halted school bus applies to drivers on some divided highways as well, said Georgia State Patrol Post 45 Trooper B. Scott.
"If a divided highway has a grass or concrete divider, only one side (the side with the bus) stops," he said. "If there is only a painted line dividing the highway, everyone stops."
Every year in May, state school systems monitor their bus routes, and bus drivers count the number of times vehicles pass their halted buses in spite of the law. Five years ago, when the exercise first began, Bulloch County bus drivers saw the law violated 67 times in one day, Webb said.
"In the more recent years it decreased, but (the count) was still in the 40s. That is too many," he said. "It is especially bad on and around the Georgia Southern University campus. Two-thirds of the violations (counted during the exercise) occur there. We have enlisted the support of the Statesboro and Georgia Southern police to be in certain locations and watch for these violations."
According to Statesboro Police Department statistics, only three citations were issued in 2015 for passing a stationary school bus, but already this year, there have been five such citations issued.
"They are being pulled over, but this doesn't seem to solve the problem," Webb said.
The school system has run ads to promote awareness of school bus safety laws at the start of new semesters, especially "on stations GSU students would watch," he said. They have also considered installing cameras on school buses, which "would take the support of law enforcement and the judicial system," he said.
Webb said he feels people are "in a hurry, on the cellphone, texting or otherwise distracted" when they break the law and pass a halted school bus.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.