In the 2015-16 school year alone, thousands of drivers put Kanawha County students in harm's way by illegally passing stopped school buses, the district’s department of transportation estimates.
Bus drivers across the county are trying to put the problem to a stop, for good.
To eliminate the issue, they’re continuing to educate drivers on the rules of the road, said Brette Fraley, executive director of KCS Department of Transportation. They’ve seen a drop in the amount of illegal passers with the help of 13 News’ reports, he said.
“Our goal is always zero. I mean, anytime a school bus gets passed illegally, you got a child whose life’s in danger or a parent or guardian. So our goal is always zero,” Fraley said.
In a continuing effort to resolve the issue, 13 News rode on one of the most illegally-passed school buses in Kanawha County during morning pick-up on the first day of winter semester.
In a matter of five stops, two drivers failed to stop while students were loading the bus on Maccorkle Avenue in Kanawha City.
All the while, the bus had its stop arm out and its lights flashing.
“I try to honk my horn, try to get them to stop, but they just stare at you and just keep on creeping through like nothing,” said Kanawha County School bus driver Wes Mangus.
On that same route, another driver initially stopped for the bus, but still passed before the bus had put its stop arm back and turned off the flashing lights.
“It makes me nervous, it upsets me, even scares me...I don’t want to see anyone get hurt,” Mangus said.
So far, no students or parents have been injured in Kanawha County by illegal passers, Fraley said. He says with the amount of illegal passers they’ve seen this year, they’ve been “more lucky than good.”
Fraley and others are reminding drivers of West Virginia state code: motorists must stop for stopped school buses when the stop arm is out and the lights are flashing, regardless of what side of the road motorists are traveling on and regardless of whether there is a median in the roadway.
The rule applies to all roadways with the exception of controlled-access highways.
Some Kanawha County School bus drivers are also pushing to get legislation passed that would impose harsher penalties on at-fault drivers. The legislation would also make it easier to prosecute drivers by allowing the justice system to convict based solely on the license plate numbers of cars caught on camera illegally passing the bus. The current system requires the cameras to also get a face recognition of the driver.
Until it’s passed, bus drivers are trying to spread a potentially live-saving message.
“All I ask them is to pay attention to whenever they see them yellow lights come on,” Mangus said. “They see me slowing to a stop, they need to stop with me so no one gets hurt.”