By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Children climb off the school bus and wait until driver Mary Taylor gives them the thumbs up signal, telling them it’s okay to cross the road. Taylor, other school bus drivers and the West Virginia State Police are asking other motorists to use just as much caution when students are getting on and off school buses.
This week is National School Bus Safety Week, so state troopers have been riding aboard school buses — and following them — to help catch drivers who ignore stop signs that the buses deploy when students are getting off or climbing aboard.
Trooper J.L. Morris of the state police detachment near Princeton rode Taylor’s school bus Wednesday while Trooper S.R. Moore followed in a police cruiser. If anybody drove through the bus’s stop sign, Morris was ready to relay the information to Moore.
School bus drivers flash yellow warning lights before stopping and swinging out their stop signs. Motorists must stop until the lights cease flashing and the sign is pulled back, Morris said.
“It’s a good practice to stay stopped until you see the bus start moving,” Morris advised. “Because the bus won’t start moving until the bus driver sees that all of the students are out of the way.”
Taylor took her vehicle out of the parking lot and headed for Courthouse Road. The first stop was Glenwood School. Seeing a driver go through the stop sign is an almost daily occurrence.
“I’m glad you’re doing this today,” she told the trooper sitting behind her. “With our luck, we won’t see one today, but we sometimes get five or six a week.”
During one recent incident, a man talking on a cell phone pulled his pick-up truck — which was hauling a trailer — toward the bus while children were getting off. Taylor honked her horn to get his attention. Startled, he shrugged and moved on.
Counting the daily runs to Glenwood and transporting Princeton Senior High School students, Taylor estimated that she drives 189 students to and from school every day.
Parents waiting at Glenwood School said they have seen drivers trying to beat school bus stop signs.
“The lights will come on and people will be trying beat the stop sign,” said Terri Ellison, 30, of Princeton. “I’m just scared that some kids had to walk across the street.”
While stopping to drop off a little girl on Route 20, a car stopped suddenly just short of the sign.
“See? If she hadn’t seen him (trooper), she would have gone on,” Taylor said.
Bus driver Darrell Cook said Mercer County started a “thumbs up” program two years ago. Children waiting to cross a road are told to wait until the bus driver gives them the thumbs up signal to go ahead.
“It’s been a pretty good program,” he said.
Unfortunately, children do not always remember to follow this rule, and there is only so much a bus driver can do to keep them safe, Taylor added.
“It’s an awful feeling,” she said after some children safely crossed the road. “When I’m up here, I’m helpless as to what I can do. The drivers in Mercer County do their part to keep the kids safe. I’d like to encourage the public to do the same.”