(WFXR) — The flashing school zone signs and full school buses have been absent for several months due to summer vacation. Now that students are returning to the classroom, though, authorities and school officials across the Commonwealth are urging drivers to slow down and pay attention.
Virginia law states that school zone signs are activated 30 minutes before the school’s first bell — both in the morning and afternoon — and will turn off 30 minutes after school begins and ends.
If a driver is caught speeding in an active school zone, police say that is considered reckless driving and they could face a year in jail, a $250 fine, and possibly a six-month suspension of their driver’s license.
“Use caution; make sure you know what’s around you; give yourself plenty of time to get to where you need to get to so you’re not rushing, so you are not endangering someone; and leave it to the police department to go ahead and enforce those laws who aren’t following those,” said Sgt. Dan Walters with Roanoke County Police Department’s Special Operations.
Drivers are also asked to pack your patience because there will be extra traffic on your morning and afternoon commutes due to buses, parents, and guardians dropping students off and picking them up.
“Everyone wants to make sure that our kids are safe, our bus drivers are safe, that drivers on these roads are safe, so our department, along with every agency in the Commonwealth will be out in full force, enforcing these speed signs, school zones signs the hours they are in effect,” Walters said.
Here are some more safety tips shared by school officials, public safety and transportation departments, and law enforcement agencies across the Commonwealth as students head back to school.
- Stay off your phone with driving
- Obey school zone speed limits and school crossing guards
- Be alert and cautious around neighborhoods, school zones, crosswalks, and bus stops
- Keep an eye on your surroundings and look for kids around parked cars during pick-ups and drop-offs
- Take extra time to look for kids at intersections, as well as on medians and curbs
- Enter and exit driveways, garages, and alleys slowly and carefully
- Remember that, in the words of the National Safety Council, “children are often unpredictable, and tend to ignore hazards and take risks”
- Not only will kids play and gather near bus stops, but those who are running late may dart into the street without looking for traffic
- Kids may be walking or biking in the street, especially if there are no sidewalks
- Be aware of all buses — and the fact that they make numerous stops during the morning and afternoon runs — and give them plenty of space so kids stay safe
- Never pass on the right side of a school bus where children enter or exit because not only is that against the law, but it can have dangerous results
- Drivers should have a distance of at least 20 feet between their vehicle and the bus, especially since the 10 feet around a school bus is the most dangerous for children
- If the yellow lights are flashing, the bus is preparing to stop
- If the red lights are flashing and the stop arm is extended, the bus has stopped to pick up or drop off students, which means drivers in both directions (unless the travel lanes are separated by a barrier or physical median) must stop and wait until all kids are clear, the lights stop, the stop arm lifts, and the bus starts moving again
FOR PARENTS OF KIDS WHO TAKE THE BUS:
- Make sure your kids leave home on time if they are walking to the bus stop, especially since running can be dangerous.
- Students should be at the bus stop at least five minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive.
- Children need to respect the “Danger Zone,” the 10-foot wide area on all sides of the bus; cross the street in front of the bus rather than behind the bus to make sure the driver sees them; and stand at least 10 feet, or five giant steps, from the road while waiting for the bus so they’re out of the way of traffic.
- Have your kids put everything they carry in a backpack or school bag so they won’t end up dropping things along the way.
- If it’s raining, make sure your children are wearing bright raincoats with contrasting colors so drivers can spot them.
- If you have a young child, go to the bus stop with them, but if your children are older, have them walk in groups. In other words, there is safety in numbers since drivers can see groups more easily.
- Practice good pedestrian behavior in front of your children.
- Walk on the sidewalk.
- If there is no sidewalk, stay out of the street.
- If you must walk in the street, you should walk single file, face traffic, and stay as close to the edge of the road as you can.
- Exaggerate your head turns and narrate your actions so your children know you are looking left, right, and then left again.
- If you children drop something near the bus, make sure they know not to pick it up because if they bend over to grab it, the driver might not see them and they could get hurt as the driver pulls away from the stop. Instead, have your children tell the driver and follow the driver’s instructions.
- Teach your kids to secure loose drawstrings, scarves, loose fitting or baggy clothing, and other objects that could get caught in the handrail or door of the school bus as they exit.
- If you meet your children at the bus stop after school, wait on the side where they will be dropped off rather than across the street. After all, the kids may be so excited to see you that they forget the safety rules and just run across the street.
For more school bus safety rules, you can check out the websites for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Police also recommend parents teach their children about school zone safety, as well as how to use crosswalks and obey crossing guards.