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W.Va. troopers ride along to crack down on motorists ignoring school bus stops

May 04, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

SHENANDOAH JUNCTION, W.Va. — As the fog lifted Friday morning, Bill Jordan highlighted the trouble-spots along his bus route for Jefferson County Schools.

His stops along Jefferson Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard to pick up school children are a few of the more prominent places where motorists in Charles Town, W.Va., have ignored his bus’ flashing red lights and extended stop arms.

“It’s kind of a regular thing,” Jordan as he made his first stop of the morning to pick up a boy along Cattail Run Road.

Some of the violators even wave as they go by, Jordan said.

No one passed Bus 1107 illegally Friday. Perhaps they might have spotted West Virginia State Police Trooper M.J. Glende tailing closely behind the 2011 Blue Bird that Jordan was operating.

Glende and West Virginia State Police Sgt. E.D. Anderson, who rode along with Jordan Friday morning, were taking part in a statewide safety sweep this week to crack down on hundreds of motorists who pass stopped school buses each year in West Virginia.

Troopers boarded buses on 23 routes in 12 counties, including Berkeley and Jefferson, which didn’t report any violators Friday.

Statewide, authorities said motorists ignored the bus’ lights and stop arms on six routes, according to the Associated Press.

While riding along with Jordan, Anderson recounted seeing a number of motorists violate the law while on his way to work.

On one occasion, Anderson said he spotted a driver in Jefferson County who not only passed a bus illegally, but passed on a double yellow line.

“And he was driving suspended so he got towed,” Anderson said.

 At the time, Anderson said he was driving an unmarked vehicle, and there was a student just starting to step toward the bus before stepping back.

“It was close,” Anderson said.

Jefferson County Schools Transportation Coordinator Robert “Bob” Boylan said motorists are not only passing illegally on the left side of the bus, but also on the right side where the door opens for children to board.

Beginning this fall, Boylan said his department will be adding cameras to buses that can record images of motorists, the vehicles they’re driving and their license plates as they pass illegally on the left side.

 The cameras will be added to buses that travel certain problem routes, but are mobile and can be mounted on other buses if violators surface elsewhere.

An estimated 600 motorists a year illegally pass stopped school buses, according to the state Department of Education.

Jorea Marple, state superintendent of schools, said failure to stop for buses puts children at risk of injury or death about 120,000 times each school year.

Troopers in many counties are planning additional unannounced ridealongs and increased patrols to catch violators, the agency said.

Initial results of a survey conducted on April 25 showed there were 27 violations in Berkeley County in one day, according to the education department.

Terry Forrest, director of the Berkeley County Schools Transportation Department, said most problem areas are along bus routes that overlap roads with higher traffic volumes, such as  Shepherdstown Road, Charles Town Road and Winchester Avenue.

Forrest said his department also is adding more cameras to the school district’s bus fleet to catch violating motorists.

A driver who causes an injury to those aboard a school bus faces up to three years in prison and a $2,000 fine, according to the education department. A driver who kills someone could be put in prison for up to 10 years and fined $3,000.

Motorists who simply fail to stop can be fined $500, charged with a misdemeanor and jailed up to six months.

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