They’re big and yellow with flashing lights, but still police frequently see motorists passing stopped school buses and putting children in danger.
“It’s obviously a problem every year,” said Richmond County sheriff’s Sgt. Danny Whitehead. “Our worse fear is obviously what happened last year.”
In December, 8-year-old Jaidyn Williams, a Sue Reynolds elementary student, was struck by a minivan while attempting to board the bus on Belair Road. He was taken off life support on Dec. 26, two weeks after being hit.
Scott William Hancock, 20, was charged with vehicular homicide and reckless driving.
Injuries and deaths from passing a bus are rare locally, but each instance puts a child at risk.
With school starting or about to begin in most counties – students in Richmond County return on Monday – the possibility of such incidents become more prevalent, say officials.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 21 children under 19 die each year getting on and off buses. On average, each school bus is illegally passed once every day.
Some states, like South Carolina, are cracking down on the offense. A new South Carolina law, which went into effect Aug. 1, will make it easier for officers to write tickets for illegally passing buses. The law will allow police to write tickets after reviewing video captured by cameras installed on the outside of school buses. Previously, an officer had to witness the action to prosecute – unless injuries resulted and boosted the charge to a felony.
Republican State Sen. Thomas Alexander (Oconee) said alack of consequences has led to increasing problems. Districts around the state are installing cameras on a pilot basis.
Merry Glenne Piccolino, with Aiken County Public School District, said cameras have been discussed there.
Richmond County schools will also be experimenting with cameras.
Jimmie Wiley, director of transportation, said two cameras will be installed for testing purposes. The cameras will be placed on bus routes that have reported the most problems. Wiley said west Augusta around Washington Road appears to be the worst area.
In Columbia County, the biggest problem area tends to be Columbia Road between Belair and Washington roads and Belair Road from Washington to S. Old Belair roads, according to Capt. Steve Morris.
Inattention is a common cause of the offense, but some drivers are just impatient or unfamiliar with the law, police said.
Most drivers know they have to stop on a two-lane road, but their knowledge of the law becomes more harried when they’re faced with a stopped bus on a larger road.
“Some people are under the impression that they don’t have to stop if there’s a center turn lane but they do,” Morris said.
Georgia law states that drivers approaching a stopped bus from the rear must stop. When approaching from the front, all vehicles must stop unless the road is divided by a raised median.
In South Carolina the same rule applies when approached from the rear. But when approaching from the front, drivers do not have to stop if there are four or more lanes – two in each direction.
“We just want everyone to not be in such a hurry, especially with school starting, and be more attentive to your surroundings,” said Aiken County sheriff’s Capt. Eric Abdullah.
The Georgia State Patrol takes enforcement a step further by periodically doing ride-alongs with school buses in the Augusta area to see the offenses as bus drivers do.
Sgt. Christopher Wright said troopers ride in the bus to observe the behavior and communicate with other troopers via radio who track down the offenders and make charges.
Associated press reports were used in this article.