It’s hard to imagine why anyone would pass a stopped school bus, but it happens every school day on city streets and rural roads throughout Mississippi. All of us should be concerned, because all of us have a stake in the future — and nothing represents the future more than students on a bus.
Every October, the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents raises awareness about this issue during National School Bus Safety Week. This year we chose the theme “30 Seconds Can Save a Lifetime” because 30 seconds is the average time it takes for students to get on or off their school buses at bus stops.
There’s a reason why the campaign falls in October. This is the time of year when daylight hours start getting shorter, and many students are picked up early in the morning when it’s still dark and visibility is lower. It’s important for drivers to be extra cautious when they encounter school buses and to stop when signaled.
Our statewide “30 Seconds Can Save a Lifetime” campaign includes social media posts, print and radio advertising, news features and other forums to reach as many Mississippians as possible. But nothing is more powerful than personal connections.
If you’re reading this, you can help. We’re asking everyone to use whatever forums are available — classrooms, churches, sports activities, neighborhood groups, civic clubs, the dinner table — to talk about school bus safety. Just spending a few moments reminding others about school bus safety could help prevent tragedies.
Make sure they know that the decisions we make at bus stops have real consequences because real lives are involved. Each child on the bus has a home, a family, and a future filled with hopes, dreams and aspirations. Waiting for them to safely get on and off the bus is time we are investing in their lives and their futures.
Please let them know that drivers in Mississippi are required to stop at least 10 feet from a school bus when the bus is loading or unloading children. They must not proceed until all children have crossed the street, flashing red lights are no longer activated and the stop sign on the side of the bus is retracted.
Also inform them that those who choose to break the law face serious consequences. Drivers can be fined up to $750 for a first offense for not stopping for the bus, even if no child is harmed. A second offense could lead to up to a year in prison. Anyone who passes a school bus that, in the process, results in injury or death will serve up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Like many other states, Mississippi has gotten more serious about school bus laws by enacting stiffer penalties. But the sad fact is that these laws are often passed in response to tragic losses. That was the case in 2011 when the Legislature passed Nathan’s Law, which was named for a 5-year-old Jones County boy who was killed by a driver passing a stopped school bus in 2009.
A series of fatalities in 2018 served as a tragic reminder that some drivers aren’t getting the message. That year, five children were killed in a three-day span in school bus-related incidents in the U.S., including 9-year-old Dalen Thomas of Mississippi, who was hit by a pickup truck on Oct. 31 as he boarded a school bus bound for Baldwyn Elementary in Lee County.
Sadly, we can only imagine the lives that Nathan and Dalen would be living today if the drivers involved in their tragedies had simply stopped.
To most of us, making the right decision at a school bus stop is so obvious that we probably don’t think about bringing up the subject with others. But that is absolutely what we should be doing.
Kids are counting on us to make sure they get to school and return home safely every day, just like each of us did. Please make sure the people in your life know what to do when they encounter stopped school buses. The future belongs to those students, and it’s up to us to protect it for them.