BY JACKIE DEFUSCO, WJHL
ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL) - Following a series of student deaths at bus stops, one local school system is taking action to prevent one of their students from being next.
"We've had several students across the country that have been killed in recent weeks because of people passing stopped school buses,” said John Hutchins, transportation director for Elizabethton City Schools. "We want to make sure that we get the word out there and try to stop this before we have one of our children, or several of our children, become a statistic."
Passing a stopped school bus is illegal. Elizabethton Police Department Public Information Officer Captain Shane Darling said this offense could land a driver with a fine, ranging between $250 to $1,000 dollars.
Regardless, Hutchins said Elizabethton bus drivers see this problem play out daily.
Darling said it’s nothing new. “I’ve been at the department for 15 years and this has been going on since I can remember."
Historically, they said bus stops on roads with four or more lanes have posed the biggest safety risk to students. "We've had to eliminate those bus stops because people are not educated with respect to when they should stop when they see a bus that has red lights flashing and a stop arm out,” Hutchins said.
Hutchins said he asked one driver, with a high-traffic route, to log every incident he saw in October 2018. His records show that there were 10 offenses on Broad Street, a five-lane road in Elizabethton, alone. There were 13 cases overall, most of them in the evening.
"Here in the city limits of Elizabethton, essentially, there's not anywhere that a school bus is going to stop that you can continue to pass,” Darling said.
A federal petition is currently in circulation, with over 14 thousand signatures, to increase the penalty for drivers who pass stopped school buses. It’s suggesting drivers have their license suspended or even face jail time.
Hutchins said Elizabethton schools are taking action in another way.
By December, every bus in the school system will have a new exterior camera so that they’re able to monitor traffic more clearly if there is an offense.
He said all of their buses currently have interior cameras.