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Drivers urged to be aware of students, buses as school starts back

Posted: August 9, 2017 - 12:27am

As nearly 16,000 Columbia County students are expected to be transported by school bus this year, drivers are urged to remain aware of their surroundings in school zones and always stop for school buses.

A small group gathered Wednesday at Parkway Elementary School, as one of four stops along the state-wide "School's Open - Drive Carefully," campaign with AAA auto group and the Georgia Office of Highway Safety.

"Be prepared by leaving early and making sure that you're not in a hurry," Assistant school superintendent Penny Jackson. "Our children and our transportation personnel, and our construction workers are counting on us to be aware, be patient and to not be in a hurry."

The campaign is an educational event to raise awareness of safety of the roadways in an effort to prevent fatalities.

"In 2015, there were 373 fatalities for students and over 11,000 injuries that happened in school zone accidents," said Sasha Marcinczyk, Georgia Field VP for AAA auto group. "(Wednesday) morning, there were 839 fatalities on Georgia highways so far at that point in the year. Ultimately our goal is to get to zero."

During the campaign stop, Marcinczyk explained that AAA has implemented a variety of road safety education programs throughout schools across Georgia, including student safety patrols, and educating teenage prom-goers about the dangers of drinking and drug use while driving.

"There has been a lot of focus on schools, at elementary, junior high and high school levels," Marcinczyk said. "The reason being is that if you can teach kids at a young age, good rules and good things to follow, then as they get older and start getting behind the wheel they are far more likely to be more responsible."

In addition, he encouraged drivers to be aware of and obey all school signs and speed limits to protect students.

"It may not seem like a big difference going 30 mph versus going 25, or it might not seem like big difference if you come to kind of a complete stop versus a complete stop," Marcinczyk said. "But when a student jumps out in front of you unexpectedly, that 5 miles an hour and that complete stop might be the difference between life and death."

Georgia Department of Public Safety Lt. Jonathan Moushet also spoke during the campaign, and told the group that nearly 1 million students are transported by buses statewide, and added that passing school buses with stop signs deployed is a serious offense.

"What we are trying to get out is pay attention to when you are around those school buses and pay attention to those stop signs, especially when you are on multi-lane roads," Moushet said. "You think that the kids are going to get off and automatically go to the right, but the kid may be crossing the street back to the left and that's a lot of times when we've seen some accidents."

Moushet, with the department's Motor Carrying Compliance Division, is responsible for ensuring school buses meet the mandated safety requirements, and this year have inspected nearly 19,000 buses.

"We are building relationships with school systems to better serve their needs, but we also would like to encourage you to do your part," Moushet said. "Watch your speed, pay attention to these school buses, don't go around them when they're stop signs are out. Put down your cellphone. No text message, no Facebook, no social media is worth the life of a child or your own."

Columbia County Transportation Director Connor Allen said that safety is a top priority for all county bus drivers, and said he was pleased that the county was chosen as a stop on the campaign trail.

"Everything in transportation is about safety of our students," Connor said. "Every day and all day long they're on a bus or in a school, we have a safe environment in all of our schools, and we have a safe environment on our buses and our drivers are trained to handle all situations concerning safety."

Connor said he found Moushet's comment on distracted driving with cellphones to be the most important piece about school bus safety.

"So many drivers are texting while meeting a school bus or talking on the phone while coming near a school bus," Connor said. "We want everyone in our community to know that when the yellow lights are flashing on a bus that that bus is about to stop to pick up students, or unload students. So those yellow lights men caution, please slow down and get prepared to stop."

Columbia County was one of four districts chosen to participate in the annual "School's Open - Drive Carefully," campaign that has been conducted annually by AAA since 1946.

 

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