As many as 50 times a week, Pekin children are endangered by motorists who drive by the flashing red lights and stop signs that school buses display when they halt on their routes.
It’s time for that to stop, say the bus drivers and police.
On their own, then as part of a cross-country campaign they discovered in their planning, directors of the city department that operates public school buses have launched a public awareness effort to curb a problem that’s grown too dangerous.
“I could safely say we see 20 to 50” incidents each week in which motorists, from both directions, pass stopped school buses despite their flashing red lights and stop signs deployed from the buses’ left side, Ty Whitford, city superintendent of transportation, said Wednesday.
For those motorists, the department has issued a message — in old-fashioned print and through a social media-based network.
“‘Stop’ Means Stop!” read the signs posted last week on billboards at eight locations throughout the city.
The signs include the Internet-accessed address, #Break4Buses, which leads to the Twitter-based campaigns #Brake4Buses and #Break4Buses to protect children boarding and leaving school buses that began last year in Raleigh, N.C.
The effort to curb bus law scofflaws here, however, is homegrown.
“We decided we had to do something about it,” he said. A discussion produced the idea for the billboards from John York, the transportation department’s assistant superintendent.
“I haven’t done a formal study, but in the real world I hear about (the law’s violations) on a daily basis” from department drivers who deliver 4,000 public elementary and high school students along 280 routes, Whitford said.
His department spent about $5,000 from its budget to post the signs for about a week on the billboards owned by Adams Outdoor Lighting Co. of Peoria. The signs will return this summer as the next school year approaches.
The police department has joined in the public awareness campaign with messages on its Facebook page. A news release it issued cited alarming statistics showing that, nationwide, more than 13 million motorists violate stopped school bus laws each year.
In Pekin, bus drivers find motorists passing their vehicles outside the two elementary schools, Jefferson and Scott Altman, where students board and exit buses on streets outside the schools’ parking lots, Whitford said.
Along routes after school, the drivers diligently keep students inside until they see all vehicles behind them stopped in obedience to their lights and deployed stop signs, he said.
Still, motorists “sneak up” from behind or pass buses from the other direction on two-lane streets, a violation of the state law, he said. Only on four-lane streets can motorists driving towards a stopped bus pass it.
Many violators get away. While bus drivers try to record their license plate numbers, their first priority is “keeping an eye on the kids,” Whitford said.
Drivers see many violations on Park Avenue, where a grassy median separates the two single lanes in each direction. Despite the median, opposite-direction motorists are still required to stop.
State school bus laws carry a three-month license suspension and a $150 fine for a first offense. A second offense within five years will produce a one-year suspension and a $500 fine.
Follow Michael Smothers at Twitter.com/msmotherspekin