As students are beginning to go back to school in the area this week, both PennDOT and local police want motorists to abide by rules to keep students safe.
“We just want people to be aware of the young people crossing the roads,” said Cpl. Bryan Kendi with the Connellsville Police Department.
Of all the reports that the police department has received involving school-bus-related incidents with motorists, Kendi said the number-one complaint involve people who drive around the school bus when the bus is stopped on the road, its lights are activated and the stop signs swings out from the side.
“You are obligated to stop,” Kendi said, adding a warning to drivers that people have been documenting such violations with their cellphone cameras, which is enough evidence to issue a citation to the vehicle’s owner.
Lt. Tom Kolencik with the Uniontown City Police Department said the majority of the calls they receive in the city aren’t the cars traveling around buses or not obeying the bus’s stop sign, but careless and reckless driving in general while children are waiting or walking to the bus.
“Our department is enforcing traffic laws and safety before, during and after school lets out,” Kolencik said, adding people should expect more patrol and police in the area as well.
Jay Ofsanik, the safety press officer with PennDOT District 12, said the number-one complaint they hear is the vehicles not stopping.
“People need to understand that it’s all about safety for the kids,” Ofsanik said. “Once the sign is out and the lights are on, you need to be at least 10 feet away from the bus.”
Ofsanik said vehicles need to be that far away so the children aren’t walking close to the bus so the bus driver can see them walking across the road, and the children can better see their surroundings.
On multiple-lane roadways, a car is not to stop beside the bus if that car is in the other lane as all vehicles should be behind the bus.
Ofsanik added that if a motorist comes to an intersection, if a bus is there with it’s lights and stop sign activated, the motorist is supposed to stop until the bus continues on.
“Motorists need to be aware kids are coming from different directions to catch the bus,” Ofsanik said, adding that it’s simple to know that once a bus stops and the lights are on, the motorists have to stop with the only exception being in the opposite lane on a divided highway.
As Connellsville winds down an aggressive driver campaign in August, Kendi said that while the campaign isn’t directly related to the beginning of school, most of what they look for with aggressive driving can be seen like speeding, tailgating a bus and, of course, running stop signs.
“We look for an activity that causes a potential problem for the students, and we will make traffic stops and write citations,” Kendi said.
Ofsanik said penalties can include a fine of $250, five points taken off the driver’s license and even up to 60 days license suspension if found guilty, but he added the worst penalty is the guilt knowing that reckless actions caused the injury or death of a child.
“Most area school students go back on Monday, and we need to think about our driving habits in the morning now,” Ofsanik said, suggesting that once a motorist sees a bus on their morning route, ease off the gas because it will give the motorist more time to stop when those lights come on.
He added another important tip when sharing the road with school buses is to leave for a commute 10 minutes earlier to give some extra time to drive to a destination.
“Make the proper stops so you don’t feel rushed,” Ofsanik said. “People make bad decisions when they feel rushed.”
Kolencik said teen drivers must also be considered as parents can go online to look up the New Driver Deal contract and agreement form from PennDOT that lists what’s expected out of teen drivers and the penalties if the violate those expectations like not wearing a seat belt, speeding or texting while driving.
Finally, Kolencik said those student who walk to school should know the route to walk to their school, learn to walk in groups, learn about stranger danger, never take shortcuts or go in the woods.
“Adult supervisor is paramount,” Kolencik said, adding that parents of student walkers should also get together and create safe spaces, which are homes where, if a student feels that they’re in danger, can go and the parent there has that child’s emergency contact information on hand.
“If you see anything suspicious or careless driving, call our department or 911,” Kolencik said.