Bus drivers for the Central Nebraska Community Action Partnership’s Head Start program are running into a significant and potentially dangerous problem: Anxious drivers needing to get to work or trying to get home from work not stopping for extended school bus stop signs, a violation of Nebraska state law.
Mary Engel, a bus driver for CNCAP Head Start, noted that ignorance of driving law is a key factor regarding people not stopping and putting children’s lives in danger.
“People need to be more aware when the stop arm is out and the lights are flashing,” Engel said. “It’s a $500 fine if you don’t stop. The statistics of kids dying each year from their own school bus running them over is unbelievable.”
Nebraska State Statute 60-6,175 requires drivers to slow down when a school bus’ lights are flashing, and stop when the bus comes to a complete stop. Any violation of this law, whether intentional or not, is a Class IV misdemeanor. Drivers are hoping for greater awareness to prevent a situation in which a child is run over and is seriously injured or dies.
“When the stop sign is up, that is when that child is coming out of the house,” said Janette Wolff, a fellow bus driver with Head Start. “That child could dart out in front of a bus, they could dart out in front of a car and we don’t want it to happen.”
But sometimes, people seemingly just can’t help themselves, mainly because they are a little too preoccupied with making it to work on time.
“When you think about it, nine times out of 10, we are on a morning route where people are trying to get to work,” Engel said. “They’re in a hurry, so they’re not paying attention. Noon routes, people are on lunch break trying to get back quickly. Then, we drop off kids in the evening or afternoon and people are getting off work.”
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Wolff noted that this isn’t just an issue with Head Start’s buses. She has been paying close attention to drivers’ behavior when it comes to buses for Columbus Public Schools and is also seeing many of the same problems that come with slowing down and stopping for children.
“All the parents are waiting for their children to get on the bus and to get home safely,” Wolff said. “Our main concern is the safety of those children.”
Considering the age group of children in Head Start - predominantly 3-5 year-olds - keeping them safe and out of harm’s way is of utmost importance to the drivers and those designing the buses. For instance, the buses that CNCAP uses are considered the “baby” buses; smaller models that are especially designed for usage by preschool-age children. These children can be easily distracted and curious which creates a possible danger when out on the streets.
“They lose a paper in the wind and they run after it,” Engel said. “We are trained very well when we drop off and pick up to get as close as we can to where they are being picked up so that they don’t have to cross the street. We pre-trip the route before we do it, then we make sure that they are all safe as can be.”
Both Engel and Wolff want to see drivers have a little bit more patience and awareness out on the roads. With the desire for everyone to keep their eyes peeled on the roads for safety, the two bus drivers are hoping that they can get more everyday drivers stopping and taking care of some of the littlest members of society.
“Just be aware of the stop signs on the buses,” Wolff reiterated.
Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.