BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — National School Bus Safety Week is Monday, October 17 through Friday, October 21, but for Anthony Wayne Local Schools bus drivers, safety is a priority every day of the school year.
“I’m very proud of the work our drivers do every day to keep our kids safe,” said Tammy Tapley, AWLS director of transportation.
Keeping kids safe entails training the students, parents and motorists, said Tapley and Whitehouse Police Cpl. Charles Kes-singer, school resource officer. Each year, the Lucas County Sheriff’s Office and area law enforcement share diagrams on what the lights on the bus mean – flashing yellow for caution and flashing red for stop – but incidents still occur with vehicles speeding past the flashing stop sign next to the driver’s window.
Kessinger shared an incident in which a man’s dash cam recorded as he advanced 300 yards without braking toward a bus that was stopped with flashing lights.
“He rear-ended the bus. That’s distracted driving,” Kessinger said. “We’ve had drivers with the stop sign out and people have blown by. There have been some close calls. That’s very scary.”
Distracted driving has increased, Tapley believes.
“I definitely feel that drivers are increasingly distracted, either by their cell phone or lost in thoughts of their schedules. Over the last 15 years, it’s gotten worse,” she said.
Two years ago, AWLS added cameras to every bus. Located on the stop sign arm that extends from the driver’s side, the cameras can pick up video of a passing vehicle, including the license plate number.
That information is relayed to local police and a citation is issued. Failure to stop for a school bus is a mandatory court appearance with a penalty issued upon a plea and finding of guilt, according to Maumee Municipal Court spokesperson Lisa Allen. That penalty could include a fine of up to $500.
During National School Bus Safety Week, Ohio Highway Patrol officers will follow the buses around to look for issues and to raise awareness. Local law en-forcement may also do a blitz to follow buses.
“Parents love that. They appreciate knowing that we’re looking out for the kids,” Tapley said.
Bus drivers work closely with students, beginning with incoming kindergartners during Safety City events, to show them the proper way to enter and exit a bus. Throughout the first few weeks of school, videos on school safety are shared and drivers remind kids about remaining in their designated place of safety (DPS) until the driver signals.
“We’re training the kids all the way through 12th grade,” Tapley said.
A DPS is a state requirement, giving bus drivers a moment to clearly see the number of students at a bus stop upon an approach. The student needs to wait in that spot while the driver scans to make sure that oncoming traffic is stopping.
“If a driver isn’t attempting to slow down, they’ll hold the child until they’re confident that it’s safe,” Tapley said.
For busy roads, like US 20A, the route is designed so that students don’t need to cross in front of the bus. When that’s necessary, the child is directed to walk 10 paces out before crossing in front, so the driver can see.
Each AWLS bus driver handles one of 40 morning and afternoon routes for the K-4 and 5-12 buildings, plus the kindergarten routes at lunchtime.
While the number of students on the bus dwindled during 2020 and 2021, ridership has increased, Tapley estimates. She’ll find out for sure after the first week of October, when drivers will do a count to get an idea of how many students are riding regularly.
At the same time, area law enforcement officers and crossing guards keep an eye on traffic in front of the schools – where students are dropped off, walk or bike.
“Slow down,” Kessinger said. “Pay attention to your surroundings.”