327 school-age children died in school-transportation related crashes in the United States from 2003 to 2013. Local newspaper headlines report a September of 2016 accident involving an LCPS school bus with six children aboard, another accident in December of 2016 and a third hit-and-run incident in January 2017.
No deaths were involved in the Loudoun County headlines cited here.
But, behind each school bus fatality is a devastated family. And, behind every near miss is the hidden agony of the concerned school official or shaken parent – both of whom know that next time they might not be so lucky.
Enter Purcellville parent William Baker, a father of four who, since October of last year has been sounding the alarm about “fly-by” or “stop arm” violators – drivers who fail to stop for school buses. And, although Baker says he has meet with tremendous apathy, he is not about to give up.
In a 2015 survey, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation found that over 78,000 drivers broke the law by illegally passing a stopped school bus. The survey – recording stop arm violations identified by bus drivers themselves –translates nationally to more than 13 million violations in a single school year.
Baker is personally concerned about the bus stop at the end of his driveway on Purcellville Road. Two of Baker’s children, ages 6 and 8 catch the bus at about 7:30 a.m., and his 16-year old catches the bus at about 8:30. Since October of last year Baker has personally witnessed, reported and documented at least a half a dozen stop arm violations.
Although school officials express concern, they have done nothing to address the problem directly, says Baker. He has also communicated with Barbara Comstock’s office, Dick Black’s office, Dave LaRock’s office and the Loudoun County Sheriff’s office. The LCSO has helped with extra patrols and following through with at least one offender. Several legislative offices have responded to Baker, and he is waiting to hear from others. He has also made contact with school bus safety advocates in Falls Church, which uses a Stop Arm Camera Program to catch potential offenders. This may be Baker’s most fruitful avenue; but the waiting and constant follow-up, is difficult.
After all, passing a stopped school bus is against the law in Virginia. If convicted, the driver can be charged with reckless driving (VA 46.2-859) – a class 1 misdemeanor which carries a maximum fine of $2,500 and six months in jail. Alternatively, the infraction can be treated as a traffic law violation (VA 46.2-844), which carries a maximum fine of $250. Both infractions also earn the driver heavy VA driving record penalties.
So, Baker persists, saying: “The problem here is my 6 and 8 year-old must cross that open lane to board the bus.” This parent is intent on making noise until he gets results.