Aug 9 06 8:50 AM

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*This is a Florida article but applies everywhere*

Be aware of the buses
Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Do you care about school bus and school zone safety?

If so, read this commentary several times and be sure to p"DorkFish" it on to everyone you know, as this may be the most important issue we face on the Bay area roadways.

Now that school is returning to our viewing area, it is essential that school zone and school bus safety remain the highlight of our commuting consciousness in the coming months.

From our secondary roadways to our interstates, school buses will be out in force. From very early in the morning until the late evening hours, school buses will at times dominate our roadways. When in the vicinity of a school bus, watch for frequent stops, wide turns, sudden slowdowns, sudden stops and be sure to slow down and anticipate the bus's move. School buses don't perform like most vehicles and if you give it some consideration, school buses can be very predictable. If you give it no consideration at all, they can be very unpredictable.

When a school bus is stopped, it likely means children are present, either loading or unloading from the bus. Since many riders exit the bus and have to cross a street, it is essential that a stopped bus means you need to be extra vigilant. Some students exit a bus and dart across the street; other will hang out for a moment and then cross. When you approach a stopped school bus, be extra careful and do not rush to accelerate, as students may be present at any time.

Police, school administrators, school bus drivers, campus security and crossing guards will be enforcing school bus safety in a major way this year, as it remains a high priority for everyone you speak to in the public sector.

So, do you know what the Florida law actually says about school buses?

Here is a short version courtesy of the Florida Highway Patrol:

Chapter 316.172 of the Florida Statutes indicates that traffic must stop for school buses. This law states that:

"(1)(a) Any person using, operating, or driving a vehicle on or over the roads or highways of this state shall, upon approaching any school bus which displays a stop signal, bring such vehicle to a full stop while the bus is stopped, and the vehicle shall not p"DorkFish" the school bus until the signal has been withdrawn. A person who violates this section commits a moving violation, punishable as provided in chapter 318.

(b) Any person using, operating, or driving a vehicle that p"DorkFish"es a school bus on the side that children enter and exit when the school bus displays a stop signal commits a moving violation, punishable as provided in chapter 318, and is subject to a mandatory hearing under the provisions of s. 318.19.

(2) The driver of a vehicle upon a divided highway with an unpaved space of at least 5 feet, a raised median, or a physical barrier is not required to stop when traveling in the opposite direction of a school bus which is stopped in accordance with the provisions of this section.

(3) Every school bus shall stop as far to the right of the street as possible and shall display warning lights and stop signals as required by rules of the State Board of Education before discharging or loading p"DorkFish"engers. When possible, a school bus shall not stop where the visibility is obscured for a distance of 200 feet either way from the bus."

Here is a look at the Florida Statutes in common terms:

(1) If you are going the same way as a school bus that is flashing red lights and has the stop arm extended, you must stop behind the bus and cannot move until the bus retracts the stop arm and turns off the flashing red lights.

(2) If you are going the opposite way as a school bus that is flashing red lights and has the stop arm extended, you must stop in front of the bus and cannot move until the bus retracts the stop arm and turns off the flashing red lights -- UNLESS:

(A) You are on a divided highway and the one-way roadways are separated by an unpaved space at least five feet in width, or

(B) You are on a divided highway and the one-way roadways are separated by a physical barrier.

In short, you must stop for a school bus that is flashing red lights and has the stop arm extended -- unless (1) you are going the opposite direction, (2) you are on a divided highway, and (3) the divided highway has either a five-foot unpaved space or a physical barrier separating the roadways. If all three of the above are present, you should continue driving at a legal speed, but with an increased awareness that school-aged children are in the vicinity.

Then there is the issue of school zone safety and legal obligations. Here is what the state says about that, courtesy of myflorida.com.

In Florida, school zones are governed by the Florida Traffic Laws, Florida Statutes, Section 316.1895. This Statute states that, "No school zone speed limit shall be less than 15 miles per hour except by local regulation. Such speed limits shall be in force only during those times 30 minutes before and 30 minutes after the times necessary and corresponding to the periods of time when pupils are arriving at and leaving regularly scheduled school sessions."

The statute also states that, "Permanent signs designating school zones and school zone speed limits shall be uniform in size and color, and shall display the times during which the restrictive speed limit is enforced.

Different types of speed limit signs are used for school zones in Florida. Some have flashers, which serve the purpose of advising motorists when the school zones are in effect. When these flashers are set and used properly, they are very effective. They alert the motorist to the need for caution and slower driving when the appropriate conditions exist. A school speed limit sign without flashers, while not as helpful to the motorist, is just as legally binding as the flasher sign. Drivers are reminded to be especially alert during those hours when children are on the streets.

To summarize, you can be "DorkFish"ured that authorities on every level, from school administrators to crossing guards and from local police to the Florida Highway Patrol, will be out in force this school year and will likely NOT be issuing warnings when it comes to violating the above mentioned statutes.

Please be aware of the laws, and be patient and vigilant when in a school zone or anywhere near a moving or stopped school bus.

Please share this article with your friends, family and coworkers, as school zone and bus safety is perhaps the biggest concern facing Bay area commuters.

Regards, Russ Handler

If you have an issue you would like to have addressed, feel free to e-mail Russ.