School safety depends on all drivers

"Back to School" has happened again. Parents have met back-to-school shopping expenses. Students have met their new teachers. And motorists are now meeting a test in patience that will be with them until June - school buses.

Jeff Gossage, transportation supervisor for the Sequim School District, knows that school buses can be a source of inconvenience for drivers, especially those who get stuck behind a bus that makes frequent stops.

"We don't want our kids having to walk along the road to get to or from the bus, especially in dim light and bad weather," Gossage explains.

That's why a school bus may stop at two or three consecutive driveways.

Gossage hopes motorists will be patient, adding, "Most of our drivers have places along their routes where they can pull off the road and let other traffic go by. We do try not to delay traffic any more than we have to."

Sometimes motorists may wonder why a bus that has loaded or unloaded its students doesn't immediately start moving again. Gossage explains it's because passenger safety requires that the bus remain stopped until all boarding students are seated or until all departing students have moved at least 10 feet away from the bus.

Gossage also realizes that in some situations motorists aren't sure whether they can legally pass a stopped school bus, especially on a divided road such as some sections of U.S. Highway 101.

"We don't make any on-road stops on Highway 101, and we don't let any of our students cross 101 to get to or from the bus," he says.

Instead, on U.S. Highway 101, Sequim School District buses pull completely off the roadway and stop with their hazard lights flashing (down around taillight level) but without any overhead lights flashing and without the stop sign swung out. In these cases, Gossage explains, drivers legally can continue past the bus without stopping.

On a two-lane road, even if the lanes are separated by a center turning lane, traffic in both directions must stop for a school bus on the roadway with its overhead red lights flashing and its stop sign swung out. When possible, Sequim School District bus drivers avoid stopping on one of those "three-lane" roads and instead pull off the road, using hazard lights instead of overhead lights; in these situations, traffic is free to continue moving.

All Sequim School District buses now operate out of the district's relocated transportation facility on Third Avenue, just south of the U.S. Highway 101 overpass. Every school-day afternoon at 2:30 p.m., the buses all travel to the high school stadium parking lot at the north end of Third Avenue to load homeward-bound students from Sequim Middle School, Sequim High School and Helen Haller Elementary School.

To minimize traffic congestion, some buses cut over to Sequim Avenue or Fifth Avenue on their way to the stadium.

But even so, Gossage says, drivers can expect a daily mid-afternoon flow of school buses through downtown Sequim.

"Fortunately," Gossage adds, "it's only a few blocks and it doesn't take us long to get where we're going."

Mike Bunnell is a bus driver for the Sequim School District.

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