Surge in cars passing school buses seen

  • Weber said middle school students are better than high schoolers when it comes to following the directions of drivers. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Weber said bus drivers can’t be expected to get license plate numbers of cars that pass illegally. “Our first priority is getting kids on and off the bus safely.” he said.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Tom Weber, Student Transportation of America<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

It’s become a chronic issue. Ignoring flashing lights and prominent stop signs, drivers throughout the ConVal School District are frequently going right past stopped school buses, even occasionally passing them on the right just as students are about to step out the bus door.

“It happens once or twice a day somewhere in the district,” Dave Carter, terminal manager for Student Transportation of America, the company that provides bus service to the school district, said last week. “If a bus is stopped, you have to stop. Common sense should tell you that.”

“The public just doesn’t seem to know what’s going on,” said Gene Moody, who’s the company’s head of safety and training in Peterborough. “It’s an epidemic. I think drivers are more distracted.”

Moody has video recordings of several of the incidents, which were recently captured by cameras on the buses. In one, a driver stops in the travel lane, as required by law, on Union Street in Peterborough at the intersections with Elm Street and High Street. The camera captures the stop, the red lights starting to flash, the stop signs extending from the bus. Then, just as the driver checks his mirrors and prepares to open the door, a car suddenly shoots by on the right hand side of the bus, driving across the section of pavement intended to guide cars leaving High Street, and heads down Union Street.

Another recording shows a car on Union Street that approaches a bus from the opposite direction after students have already gotten off and are about the start crossing the road. Just as the driver is about the give them the thumb’s up signal that it’s safe to cross, he realizes that the oncoming car isn’t going to stop. It goes right by, with the driver ignoring lights, stop signs and bus driver’s frantically sounding horn.

Moody has a number of such videos, because each bus has three cameras — one facing forward, one facing sideways that shows the driver as well as the bus’s door, and one facing backward that monitors the students on the bus. Drivers can push a button to mark a tape, making it easy to find the incident, but they aren’t expected to get license plate numbers.

“Our first priority is getting kids on and off the bus safely,” said driver Tom Weber. “We have a form we’ll fill out later. We turn it in to Gene. He may pull video and he’ll send a report to local police.”

Carter said some violators have been successfully prosecuted. In one instance, a video was even sent to the FBI for an enhanced analysis that yielded a license number. He said local police departments are helpful in trying to track down offenders. But the company has 37 morning and afternoon routes and nine mid day routes, with buses traveling 3,000 miles a day.

The Union Street/High Street intersection isn’t the only problem spot in Peterborough.

“I get people passing at the library intersection and by the Mariposa Museum,” said driver Brenda Caron.

“It probably happens to me once a week at about 2:35 at the Mariposa,” said Weber. “[Cars] come from all different directions.”

Weber said students are expected to wait for the signal from the driver before they cross the road.

“Most of them do it,” he said. “The middle schoolers are much better than the high schoolers. I leave my lights on until all the kids have cleared the area. It holds up traffic, but they’re safe on the sidewalks.”

Carter said the company tries to design routes so students don’t have to cross busy roads like Route 9 in Antrim, which makes some routes long but improves safety.

The cameras on the buses also monitor the actions of both drivers and students. Carter said the company uses video to follow up on complaints about drivers.

“Buses always look like they’re going too fast, because they’re so big,” he said. “We take complaints very seriously. We’ll look at the video. We talk to the driver. Ninety-eight percent of the time it’s bogus.”

Incidents involving improper student behavior happen almost daily, Carter said. When necessary, videos may be turned over to school principals for review.

Carter said he just wants area drivers to be more aware of their actions and the consider that possible consequences of shooting past a stopped school bus.

“We’ve never had a student hit, but it’s been very close,” said Carter. “If we don’t try to reduce this, and something happens, oh my God.”

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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