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State troopers will be out in full force this week in an effort to catch drivers who try to pass stopped school buses.
Troopers will enforce stop arm laws in and around school zones across the state, including Wilson County, as a part of Operation Stop Arm week. The campaign began Monday and will end Friday.
“Sometimes they don’t stop and we have to be there to be the enforcers,” said N.C. Highway Patrol Sgt. Bennie Pulliam with Troop C, District 5, which covers Wilson and Greene counties.
The goal is to decrease violations and promote safety around schools, school buses and school bus stops.
“It’s important because we are trying to keep kids safe,” Pulliam said.
Throughout the week, troopers will ride on school buses and use unmarked vehicles to monitor bus routes to and from school, according to state officials.
Wilson County Schools’ buses transport about 5,100 students to and from school each day. In a year’s time, those 112 buses travel more than 1.5 million miles.
That’s why it’s vital for drivers to be aware. Not only is it against the law to pass a stopped school bus, it’s also dangerous.
“It could be deadly,” Pulliam said.
SLOW DOWN AND PAY ATTENTION
Pulliam said the Highway Patrol typically receives school bus violation complaints both mornings and afternoons.
“Mornings are more prevalent because everybody is trying to get to work,” he said.
Pulliam said when drivers see a school bus flash its yellow lights, it’s a cue to slow down. Buses will then come to a complete stop, extending their stop arm and activating their flashing red lights.
“They give them all sorts of warnings,” he said. “They have plenty of time to get ready.”
Passing a stopped school bus carries hefty penalties. A conviction on the Class 1 misdemeanor results in five points against a person’s driving record. It’s the only charge other than aggressive driving with that high a point penalty.
If a driver passes a stopped school bus and serious injuries occur, the charge increases to a Class I felony. And if it results in a death, the charge is bumped up to a Class H felony.
All Wilson County school buses are equipped with interior and exterior cameras. Those cameras record drivers who fail to stop. Wilson police and N.C. Highway Patrol troopers work closely with the school system in cracking down on drivers who pass a stopped school bus.
BY THE NUMBERS
More than 14,000 school buses hit North Carolina roads daily transporting children to and from school. In addition to Operation Stop Arm, the state also conducts a one-day stop arm violation enforcement campaign each year.
Nearly 3,000 North Carolina drivers disregard school bus stop arms on a single day, according to state officials.
Wilson County had 11 stop arm violations during a one-day count in March 2018, a drop compared to that same day in 2017, in which officials tallied 36 violations, according to state figures.