The Lancaster County School District is cracking down on drivers who pass stopped school buses in violation of state law.
Under S.C. law, drivers who reach a school bus when the red signal lights are flashing must come to a full stop at least 15 feet from the bus, and must remain stopped until the red lights are turned off.
The exception to that law is for drivers traveling on a road with two or more lanes in each direction. Those drivers going the opposite direction of the stopped school bus do not have to stop.
With the help of bus drivers, the Lancaster County School District has identified roads where violations are common. The bus drivers recorded locations, times and vehicle descriptions during the violations.
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Common violations have been identified on these two-lane Lancaster County roads: Jim Wilson, Shelley Mullis, Fort Mill Highway/S.C. 160 and Doby’s Bridge Road, according to Bryan Vaughn, director of safety for the school district.
The district also identified U.S. 521 as a multi-lane road where there are problems.
The violations are mainly in the morning hours, but some have been reported in the evening, Vaughn said.
“Nationally it is a hot topic; there have been several serious incidents,” he said.
On May 16 in South Carolina, 595 school bus drivers reported 469 illegal passes on a single day, according to a one-day survey by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services.
Of those, 182 passes were during the morning, 10 were during mid-day and 277 were in the evening.
Statewide, 108,623 school bus drivers reported 83,944 vehicles passed the buses illegally on a single day during the 2017-18 school year, according to the same survey.
Earlier this month, police say Alyssa Shepherd was driving a pickup truck when she ran into four children at an Indiana bus stop. Three siblings died; a fourth child was airlifted to a hospital with broken bones.
In September, an 8-year-old girl was hit and killed by a semi driver in Missouri, Kan., as she crossed the street to board a school bus, reports the Wichita Eagle.
The Lancaster district shared the data on high-violation areas with the state highway patrol, Vaughn said.
The Lancaster district’s safety department is purchasing stop-arm cameras to be mounted to school buses in the hopes of catching violators, Vaughn said. The cameras will show that the school bus arm is out with the stop sign and that red lights are flashing.
The cameras will also capture images of cars that drive past the sign, allowing the district to provide a description of the vehicle to law enforcement, Vaughn said. The cameras will be installed on a trial basis on some buses in a few weeks.
South Carolina passed a law in 2014 allowing police officers to ticket drivers caught on camera illegally passing school buses. Cameras are already used on school buses in other local districts, including in Fort Mill.
The Lancaster County School District is also working on a plan with law enforcement to place off-duty officers on school buses to witness the violations and call back-up to pull over the car, Vaughn said.
“We would love for people to comply with the law,” Vaughn said. “We’re hopeful this combination of strategies will pay off.”
Lancaster County community members can report violations to the school district by calling 803-285-6009.
“We’re hopeful the general public will help out,” Vaughn said. “This enforcement strategy will be used across our county to keep all areas safe. Indian Land’s traffic volume and commuter numbers have made it a priority but we will expand our efforts going forward.”
Other districts are also addressing bus safety.
The Rock Hill school district provided this statement:
“We continue to work with our law enforcement partners, including Rock Hill Police and York County Sheriff’s Office, to address traffic safety issues near each of our campuses as well as school bus routes,” the district said. “In the future, we may request enhanced enforcement of traffic laws along school bus routes that have been known to experience vehicles ignoring stopped school buses.”
“When drivers are distracted or otherwise ignore traffic laws in school zones and along school bus routes, the safety of students and other motorists is compromised,” the Rock Hill district said. “We appreciate the partnership we have with local law enforcement agencies and their support to work alongside us to ensure students are safe while coming and going from school when riding the bus.”