Big yellow buses have returned to area roadways carrying children to and from school all morning and afternoon long.
That means we all have to re-train our eyes to spot, and stop for, the flashing lights and stop signs that indicate a child is exiting a bus and trying to cross the roadway.
However, every day, children's lives are put in jeopardy by drivers who aren't paying attention.
Few people know this better than Makinzy Smith's mom, Amy Phillips Flannery. Makinzy was killed while crossing to get onto the bus last school year by a driver who ran through the flashing lights.
"I have forgiven the lady for what she has done to my family. But it's still a healing process," she said.
State transportation officials estimate that 3,000 times every day there are close calls on North Carolina roadways when distracted drivers pass by a stopped school bus.
"We never want to see an accident. We will do everything in our power to prevent an accident," said Stanly County transportation director Art Whittaker.
His district, and others like Charlotte-Mecklenburg, now have some buses equipped special camera systems that record the roadway whenever the bus is operating. Three cameras on the left side of the bus can catch the driver's face, the license plate number on the car, and the entire violation as it happens. Each system costs approximately $3,000 and the state has offered some grants to get schools started.
"You get a detailed description of the vehicle, you actually see the offense happen and you get a tag number which helps us to locate a vehicle," said North Carolina State Highway Patrol Trooper Allen McLester.
It takes some of the pressure off of the bus driver to remember all of the details while still focusing on student safety. In fact, the driver can press a special button that will mark the spot in the recording when the violation occurred to make it easier for investigators to find.
"The school bus is the ultimate authority on the road. When it is discharging and receiving passengers there is nothing that is supposed to be moving or going on around the bus," Whittaker said.
Districts like Stanly County hope to purchase more systems and can re-deploy buses with camera systems to areas experiencing an unusually high number of distracted drivers passing the stop arms.
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