On Friday, 165 school buses hit the streets and children crowded street corners waiting to board them.
Grovetown City Councilman David Daughtry wants to remind motorists to be watchful for the extra traffic and the children waiting at bus stops or walking or biking to schools.
Daughtry, a 15-year veteran school bus driver, said the buses that serve the Grovetown area carry about 400 students to Harlem High School and another 750 pupils to Grovetown Middle School.
"There's piles and piles of kids that are waiting on school buses," Daughtry said, adding that bus routes begin as early as 6 a.m., when waiting children might not be visible in the early morning light. "(Motorists) just need to be aware."
Dewayne Porter, Columbia County's school system director of transportation, said the system's buses load children at the more than 5,000 bus stops each morning and take them to the county's 28 schools.
"We can't assume that everybody is going to follow the law, so we err on the side of caution when it comes to that,'' he said. "We try not to make a student cross the road unless it is just a situation where they have to."
School bus drivers are trained to carefully check the roadways and bus mirrors to make sure traffic has stopped before using hand signals to let pupils know it is OK to cross the road.
"There's always folks that are busy doing things they shouldn't do when they are driving, probably like putting on makeup, or talking on their cell phones or having their coffee," Daughtry said. "I don't know that it is rampant in Columbia County, but we do have occasions where people run stop signs."
When approaching from either direction of travel, motorists must stop for a school bus that has the stop sign out and the flashing lights on to load or unload passengers, according to the Georgia Department of Motor Vehicles. It is legal to proceed only when the bus begins moving.
Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said deputies will be strictly enforcing school zone speed limits and citing drivers for illegally passing buses. Morris said the fine for both offenses is a minimum of $202.
"These laws were put into place to protect our most valuable resource, our students," Morris said. "It is important for drivers to know that officers strictly enforce these laws and the penalties are appropriately stiff."
Porter said that as long as children remain out of the roadways while at bus stops, they should be safe.
"They are instructed not to play at the bus stop, but we still have some that will play," Porter said. "We can't be there to supervise them, so we do ask that the parents, especially with the younger students, be out at the bus stop with their child. Most of the time, that is the case. But we don't want anyone's children out in the road playing."
Motorists should also be aware that some pupils will be riding bicycles or walking along sidewalks and curbs to school. All children under 16 are required to wear a bicycle helmet when riding on public streets, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Morris said commuters will be seeing buses on the roads daily, but the motorists should be adjusted to the school bus schedules, routes and school zones in a few weeks.
"We want to encourage motorists who plan to travel through school zones to leave earlier than usual and be patient," Morris said.
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