The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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October 24, 2012

A front row seat

The Register-Herald participated in a statewide bus ride-a-long Monday, joining the West Virginia State Police in a front seat view of the dangers facing school children and bus drivers each day.

The West Virginia Department of Education estimates drivers fail to stop for the school bus stop arm hundreds of times a day across the state, putting students at risk as many as 90,000 times each year.

While students at Daniels Elementary boarded his bus, Raleigh County bus operator Darrell Ramsey explained that in his six years as a school bus driver, violations are “pretty consistent.”

“I usually see a school bus arm violation two or three times a week, especially on U.S. Route 19 and Airport Road,” he said.

Ramsey takes proper precaution with his tiny cargo, even reworking his bus route so no elementary kids have to cross the road when they get off. And that means making the same stop near the Cabins at Pine Haven on Airport Road twice.

And a trip down Airport Road made it clear why Ramsey doesn’t let young kids off to cross the road; At this stop on Monday, a driver passed the bus and violated the stop arm law.

Sgt. G.D. Williams, who was patrolling the bus route behind the bus, pulled the driver over.

Ramsey explained that he manually engages the bus’ yellow warning lights between 30 to 50 feet before he stops and flips out the bus stop arm.

He often sees vehicles speeding up to get by before the arm is out.

“I’d ask drivers to slow down and go ahead and stop. Our kids are going to be getting off the bus and the bus is only stopped 15 or 30 seconds. We are really not holding people up very much,” he said.

Trooper B.A. Wood, who was aboard the bus added, “Like Mr. Ramsey said, he may only see this once or twice a week, but it just takes one time for a child to get seriously injured or killed crossing the road.”

Ramsey said he had a close call last year when a male student was late getting to the bus stop.

The bus driver had already disengaged the stop arm and was preparing to pull away when the student jumped out of his parent’s car and ran toward the bus.

“Fortunately the student saw the traffic coming and stopped or he would have been hit,” Ramsey shared.

Wood added that distracted driving is often the cause for violations like passing a stopped bus.

“Most importantly, the state police want the general public to know we take this very seriously. A violation involving the school bus causes a lot of points on your license and it’s not worth it. Our supervisors are making this a huge priority and we will be out looking for violations,” Wood confirmed.

Ramsey also noted that school buses are now equipped with video cameras that can capture drivers who violate the stop arm law.

This tape can be submitted to law enforcement and drivers can be issued a citation after the fact.

He added that the statewide focus on National School Bus Safety Week over the last two years has seemed to help decrease the number of violations he sees on his route.

Drivers who violate the stop arm law can be charged with a misdemeanor and jailed up to six months. Those who cause an injury face up to three years in prison, according to the West Virginia Department of Education.

— E-mails: splummer@register-herald.com

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