Ohio County school bus driver Ivan Myles is responsible for transporting 266 students to and from school five days a week, and some members of the driving public do not make his job easy.
Each day, school bus drivers throughout West Virginia report motorists are passing stopped school buses by the hundreds - nearly 600 reports, as a matter of fact.
This week, city and State Police have been riding on Ohio County Schools buses with various media tagging along for a firsthand look at what bus drivers face on a regular basis. The program is part of a statewide campaign held in conjunction with the West Virginia Department of Education, West Virginia State Police, the Governor's Highway Safety Program, the West Virginia Department of Transportation, the West Virginia Prosecuting Attorney's Institute, West Virginia Media and the West Virginia Oil Marketers and Grocers Association.
Photo by Heather Ziegler
State Police Cpl. James Dean and Ohio County Schools bus driver Ivan Myles talk prior to Myles’ regular bus run.
The project seeks to bring awareness to the problem of distracted motorists who fail to stop for school buses that are picking up and dropping off students. Locally, several close calls involving children and motorists at school bus stops have been recorded by cameras mounted on the buses.
While Wednesday morning proved uneventful for Myles, he pointed out that the afternoon is often worse and noted a number of trouble spots where motorists fail to stop for his bus when he is loading or unloading students.
"The worst areas are along National Road in the area of Stamm Lane and Parkview Road and then along Washington Avenue," Myles said. "In the afternoon, I have a problem with the high school kids blowing past the buses."
Myles said 99 percent of the offenders are either talking on a cell phone or texting while driving.
State Police Cpl. James Dean agreed that most drivers who fail to obey traffic laws are driving distracted. While riding aboard an Ohio County Schools bus on Wednesday, Dean told high school students on board that they should never be texting while driving. He reminded the students that as of July 1, anyone using a cell phone while driving must utilize a hands-free device or face a citation. Also, anyone caught texting while driving will be fined.
State Police Sgt. Mike Hogan followed Myles' bus in an unmarked cruiser. Hogan said troopers were pleased to be a part of the awareness blitz because prevention is always better.
Dean said another problem involves motorists who do not heed the speed limit while driving through a school zone. The speed limit is 15 mph in a school zone in West Virginia.
"I've heard every excuse you can imagine," Dean said. "I've never caught anyone passing a school bus, but that's a matter of being in the right place at the right time."
Ohio County Schools officials, after viewing several traffic offenses caught on cameras mounted on school buses, took steps to increase safety. In March 2011, the district began implementing steps to protect its children following concerns regarding the number of motorists ignoring the warning signals of school buses at pickup and drop-off points. School officials met with local law enforcement and the Ohio County Prosecutor's Office to address the matter, and the Ohio County Schools Transportation Department outlined plans to raise awareness of the issue. The Ohio County Board of Education approved the following changes to protect Ohio County Schools' students:
Ohio County Schools Superintendent George Krelis said the steps taken to protect students have been effective. He said he is pleased similar efforts have taken hold throughout West Virginia.