- Associated Press - Thursday, July 9, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The State Board of Education has approved a new school bus safety policy after five North Carolina students were hurt by motorists passing stopped buses this school year.

The policy approved Thursday requires school bus drivers to use standard hand signals to tell students when the road is safe to cross.

Bus drivers will put a palm up to signal the students to wait. When it is safe, drivers will use a ‘thumbs up’ and then point in the direction students should walk.

“It’s a very simple hand signal that the children understand means that the bus driver has looked in the mirrors and has looked down the road and sees a clear path for the child to cross the road,” said Ben Matthews, the deputy chief financial officer in charge of school health and safety for the Department of Public Instruction. The policy mimics one from New York, Matthews said.

North Carolina state law prohibits vehicles from passing buses when their stop arms swing open and lights flash. The state’s old bus safety policy taught students to cross once buses’ lights and stop arms had activated, Matthews said.

Wesley Stokes, the director of transportation for Washington County Schools, said that policy wasn’t always enough.

“Just because the bus is stopped, doesn’t mean that it’s safe.” Stokes said. “(The new policy) gets them now to look at the driver before they cross the road, and that’s a good thing. Now they aren’t just walking out in the road.”

The new policy was piloted by the Washington, Gilford and Chatham County schools this spring. Matthews said the counties were selected so the state could test the program in geographically diverse areas, where buses stop on flat and hilly, metro and rural roads.

The drivers of Washington County Schools’ 34-bus fleet were trained during spring break in April and started using the program the following Monday, Stokes said. Students learned about the procedures from bus drivers and classroom teachers. Stokes said he saw immediate improvement and was pleased to see the policy adopted statewide.

“I would see them look up and the driver was giving them the hold signal and the students would stop in their tracks,” Stokes said.

Before the new policy, Stokes said, “There was no policy. It was: ‘You do not give a signal to a child to cross the road.’ We were going to schools and telling the children don’t move until the driver opens the door and then look both ways. Now we tell our students, ‘You look at the driver and when the driver gives you a signal to cross, that’s when you cross.’”


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