Guest column: Help keep our students safe, be alert around school buses

The Sequim School District transports more than 800 of our children on a daily basis on bus routes. After more than 60 near disasters this school year, the inevitable happened..

A vehicle crashed into a stopped school bus unloading children on Old Olympic Highway. A school bus filled with 40 K-12 students was stopped to unload children on a clear day with light traffic. The bus had slowed down while flashing its yellow lights signaling drivers to slow down, proceed with caution and be prepared to stop.

Flashing red lights were activated and a “Stop” paddle was extended as the bus came to a full stop. Oncoming traffic had stopped and driver was opening the exit door as students began to rise from their seats.

Suddenly there was a screeching noise followed by a clang of metal crushing metal with an impact that shook the bus as children were jolted forward.

A community-wide response began immediately. Several people from nearby vehicles began managing highway traffic, several calling 911 and a neighbor brought orange cones to divert oncoming traffic. The bus driver stayed with the children to calm them while assuring each of them was not hurt. Driver advised school transportation office of situation by two-way bus radio and encouraged students with cell phones to advise family of the situation, impending delay and assure them they were safe.

A Clallam County Sheriff deputy was quickly on scene, soon followed by emergency responders, the Washington State Patrol and Washington State Department of Transportation. There were caution markers and flashing lights spread over a quarter mile of roadway.

Within minutes, a school transportation supervisor arrived with a transfer bus, verified students were safe and bus was secure. Interviews of all parties and witnesses were conducted, photos were taken and information was exchanged. In less than an hour a preliminary investigation was made so bus driver and school students could be released from the scene.

A high school student assisted children exciting the bus while the transportation supervisor and bus driver led students to some awaiting parents who had arrived on scene. Remaining students were escorted onto the transfer bus and safely delivered to their usual bus stops.

Helpful bystanders, parents, students, emergency responders, law enforcement officers and trained transportation professionals are to be commended for their quick action. Thankfully, students were not harmed — this time.

Most drivers are aware that children are getting on and off a school bus can suddenly appear anywhere on a roadway. However, circumstance indicates there are likely hundreds of drivers that need be enlightened. Miraculously, children were unharmed — this time.

How can you help? You can help raise community awareness and a heightened sense of responsibility for the safety of our school bus children by sharing this article with other drivers.

Please pass on Washington State Department of Licensing information as follows:

• More students are killed while getting on or off a school bus each year than are killed as passengers inside of a school bus.

• Vehicles must stop for a school bus with its lights flashing whether it is on your side of the road, the opposite side of the road or at an intersection. The risk of injuring a child crossing the road is dramatically increased during the loading and unloading of a school bus. Be alert for children that may suddenly stop or try to return to the bus after unloading.

• All drivers should begin slowing down when a school bus begins flashing its yellow lights, come to a full stop upon seeing flashing red lights and remain at full stop a safe distance away from the bus. Move on only when all children are clear of the roadway, all cautionary lights are off and the bus is moving forward.

• Vehicles must remain completely stopped until after the bus lights have stopped flashing, watch for children along the side of the road and do not proceed until they have completely left the roadway. You should never pass a school bus on the right-hand side.

• Fines are doubled for anyone that passes a stopped school bus. The penalty for failing to stop for a stopped school bus may be as much as $500 and not be waived, reduced or suspended.

Please know that school bus drivers appreciate, respect and give thanks to you safe drivers on a daily basis. Thank you for taking your time to review and hopefully share this information with other drivers.

Cal Scott has been a school bus driver in Sequim for six years.