As students return to school this week, the Sedalia Police Department would like to remind drivers to slow down, be alert and take extra time to allow for buses during the morning and afternoon commutes.
Missouri law states that on a two-lane road, if a school bus is stopped and displaying warning signals while loading or unloading children, drivers must stop when meeting and following the bus. However, it is only necessary to stop on a four-lane highway when following the bus. Sedalia Police Cmdr. David Woolery said as there will be a lot of buses out picking up students, it is important to understand these warning signals.
“One thing motorists need to understand is when you are coming up on a bus and it starts to stop for the students when its yellow lights are flashing then they are not prepared to pick up the students yet. You can still pass, if you are coming on to a bus with its yellow lights flashing. When the red lights flash and the stop sign comes out you need to stop and wait for the bus to load or unload students,” Woolery said.
Law enforcement officials say it is especially important to exercise patience as children may not be aware of traffic and dart unexpectedly into the roadway.
“Motorists need to give the bus plenty of space, because you don’t know what way the kids are going to be coming or which way they are going to be exiting the bus. Just be patient and give them some time,” Woolery said.
The department receives numerous complaints every year of motorists disregarding traffic laws in regards to school buses. Many of these are on drivers who pass a bus when the stop sign is out, due to the driver being in a hurry. Police say it is not worth it to put a child in danger and receive what will be an expensive ticket.
“We get reports every year from the bus drivers,” Woolery said. “The bus drivers, if somebody violates a student crossing and passes a bus when they are loading or unloading, will get a license plate and vehicle description and give that to us. We will track that driver down and issue summonses. It’s an expensive ticket, plus it’s dangerous for the students.”
Some of the problem areas in Sedalia are the schools themselves as hundreds of parents drop off their kids in a narrow period.
“Obviously anywhere around the schools gets very busy,” Woolery said. “24th at Ingram is very busy. Around the middle school is very busy, they get very busy when the buses are coming in and unloading. All the elementary schools get very congested when the buses are loading.”
To address some of these concerns, the Sedalia City Council passed two ordinances during its meeting Monday to help students and parents when it comes to parking in front of Washington Elementary. The first ordinance removes the no parking restriction on the west side of South Engineer Avenue between East Sixth Street and East Seventh Street, while the second establishes a no parking restriction on the east side of the same block.
“That’s a good idea, because it allows parents to park on the school side of Engineer and the children can unload from the passenger side of the vehicle, which they need to do. Never unload on the traffic side of the vehicle. That will also restrict unloading students on the east side of Engineer where they have to cross a very congested street,” Woolery said.
Afternoons can be especially dangerous. According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, most traffic crashes involving young drivers (under the age of 21) in 2013 occurred between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., when school typically lets out. The MSHP says drivers need to be aware of the increased traffic during this time — not just in areas around school, but all around town as many of these drivers are inexperienced.
In 2013, two people were killed and 150 people were injured in school bus crashes. Missouri experienced 945 traffic crashes involving school buses last year, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.