WICHITA, Kansas – Passing school buses when their lights are flashing and those stop signs are out; it’s illegal and dangerous, but school buses across the country see it happen far too often.
In one day, Wichita school buses counted more than 330 violations. There have been no serious injuries in USD 259, but safety officials don’t want to wait for a tragedy to change the way people are driving.
“There’s no injury, or anything that could cause an injury to a child, that’s worth you running a stop sign just because you’re in a hurry to get to where you need to be,” said Kary Dixon, First Student Contract Manager.
KSN spent several days following school buses and filming traffic as students got on and off the bus. There are nearly 500 buses on the road each day making more than 12,000 stops. That’s 12,000 times a child could be put in harm’s way.
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For Danielle Hernandez, instances of stop arm violations are a typical part of the day as she watches her 8 year old hop on the bus one September morning.
“At this point, [it happens] at least once a week,” Hernandez said.
KSN didn’t just have to take her word for it. As her daughter cleared the doorway on the bus, and lights are still clearly flashing, a car coming from the opposite direction drives by without slowing.
“What if that was your kid?” Melvin Walker said.
“They’re in a hurry and they’re like, ‘oh no its fine I don’t see any kids,’ even though they don’t realize there are kids on the other side of the bus,” Hernandez said.
Take a closer look at the numbers. During their April study, drivers in USD 259 counted 333 violations. That means violations are happening less than 3 percent of the time. So, more often than not, drivers are obeying the law.
KSN watched Eric Tubbs wait patiently for a group of small kids to board the bus.
“Stop and let the kids on, it’s the best thing to do, safety,” Tubbs said.
First Student Safety Manager and bus driver for 12 years Diane Mays said that type of attention is critical in what they do every day.
“It feels like being a grandparent. They’re yours while they’re on the bus, but you have to give them back to Mom and Dad,” she said. “So you have them on the bus for a short period of time and those are your kids.”
“I don’t think anybody maliciously does it, I just don’t think they’re aware of the dangers of doing that,” said Transportation Department Director Fabian Armendariz.
They can’t protect them from everything though. A KSN camera caught one car drive through a stop sign as the elementary school student stepped out onto the street.
“I don’t think they take them seriously,” said Transportation Department Director Fabian Armendariz. “I don’t think anybody maliciously does it, I just don’t think they’re aware of the dangers of doing that and what a tragedy it could turn into.”
However, one of these careless violations could end in tragedy.
“Best case scenario, someone could receive a citation for running the stop sign, worst case scenario it could cause injury or death to a child,” said Sgt. Kelly O’Brien with the Wichita Police Department.
Still, the problem continues. So much so that even an 8 year old, who should feel safe, is aware of the issue.
“They just zoom past before it can stop,” said Hernandez’s daughter Liliana. “[It makes me feel] a little worried.”
Bus drivers do have a system to watch out for reckless drivers, giving kids crossing the street a thumbs up when the coast is clear.
“It’s another safeguard. Is it 100 percent foolproof? No. People still need to pay attention,” Dixon said.
Some parents wonder if a greater police presence could help reduce the problem.
“They don’t even need to be handing out tickets but I think just somebody around in the area or driving around would maybe make a difference if people knew they were watching and paying attention,” Hernandez said.
Regardless of the penalty, parents like Melvin Walker ask drivers to consider what’s at stake.
“People are still, woo! Still running by and I’m like, what if that was your kid?” he said.