School Bus Safety

March 2, 2007

Reported by: Britney Glaser

This story is not only for students riding school buses or for the parents of those students, it's for every person that is behind the wheel during the hours these buses are on their routes.

In Calcasieu Parish, alone, close to 16,000 students ride a school bus on a daily basis.  Fortunately, no child has been killed by a motorist in Southwest Louisiana when getting on or off a bus, but a handful of children have been struck by a vehicle.  Local bus drivers tell 7News that it's careless driving by motorists that puts the safety of these children in jeopardy each day.

In order to see how serious this problem is in our area, I rode along on an early morning bus route with a 15-year veteran bus driver to see how motorists react to bus signals first-hand.

Lake Charles bus driver, Veronica Lafanette, does not just drive a school bus each day.  "Kiyani, move over," says Lafanette as she looks in her top mirror.  She disciplines: "Sit, on your bottom," says Lafanette to a group of energetic children.  She greets each of her 65 passengers with a "Good Morning," and keeps an eye on this group of youngsters heading to Brentwood Elementary.

"It is hard," says Lafanette, "and we are multi-tasking."  But, the biggest problem Lafanette faces each day is the blatant disregard by motorists to the flashing lights and signs, telling them to stop.  Lafanette says, "Every day there's a car that I've encountered that's either following too close or running the stop arms."

"They're still supposed to stop," says Lafanette as one car races through a three-way stop in order to get in front of her school bus.  At one stop where ten young children load the bus, an impatient truck got right up to the rear of the bus-even with the stop signs and red lights flashing.  At the next stop, another vehicle speeds by the bus while the yellow amber lights on the bus signal an immediate slowdown.

Andy Ardoin, Transportation Supervisor for Calcasieu Parish Schools, says, "Motorists today are preoccupied with personal problems, good-time radio, cell phones, other issues, and not paying attention to their driving."

In an effort to reduce the number of motorists going around buses when the cross-arm is out, Louisiana Statute 32:80 was enacted.  Ardoin says, "If the bus driver observes and gets the license plate of the vehicle, we can turn in an affidavit to enforcement agencies and they will issue a citation to that individual who owns that car."  The punishment for going around a bus when it is stopped with the cross-arm extended is the suspension of a person's driver's license for up to one year.

"You have to realize," says Lafanette, "that we are carrying kids on this bus, and in just a split-second if you're not paying attention, you can kill someone else's precious child."

The most important rules to remember are that when a bus stops, you are supposed to be 30 feet in front of or behind the bus.  On a divided highway (with a grassy or concrete median) you are not required to stop on the opposite side of the road.  One of the most dangerous bus stops involves multiple lanes of undivided highway (as on Nelson Road in Lake Charles).  A motorist is required to stop on the opposite side of the road since there is no defined median.  Remember, when the yellow amber lights are flashing, it means that kids are about to load or unload, so do not try to speed up to move around the bus...this move just might save a child's life.