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Educators tout school bus safety bill

Local school leaders are thrilled with proposed legislation thatwould encourage more awareness and responsibility from motoristsand students when it comes to school buses.

Dist. 42 Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, has introduced”Nathan’s Law” in memory of 5-year-old Nathan Key, who was killedgetting off a school bus near his home.

McDaniel put together a bill that would impose harsher penaltiesfor vehicles that illegally pass school buses, as well as tighterguidelines for bus drivers. The bill has been referred to theSenate Judiciary A Committee and is awaiting consideration by thepanel.

“Anything we can do to upgrade and make us safer we’ll do,” saidLincoln County Superintendent of Schools Terry Brister. “I’m elatedthat someone has gone to that extent to make sure we can’t dothings we shouldn’t with the school buses, because next time couldbe a death. So far we’re just issued warnings, and I’m glad it’sgone to the extent that there’s a little farm hand behind it.”

Brookhaven School District Superintendent Lea Barrett agreedwith Brister that the legislation is a good idea.

“Certainly we want to do anything we can do to promote safetyfor our children,” she said.

The legislation would create a 30-foot buffer zone for a schoolbus when it is stopped with a stop sign extended and lightsflashing. It also prevents school bus drivers from using cellulardevices, and motorists from using devices without hands-freeaccessories within a school crossing zone.

In addition, awareness and safety training for bus drivers,students and the public would be implemented. Lincoln County andBrookhaven both have education in place for bus safety, and bothBarrett and Brister said that will continue to be a priority.

“We do a bus driver safety training at the beginning of theschool year,” Barrett said, adding that children at Mamie MartinElementary especially learn about buses in kindergarten throughsecond grade.

“(Mamie Martin Principal) Mrs. (Danita) Hobbs is verysafety-aware and concerned for her students’ well-being, and makessure children know about bus safety, and how to love the bus andwalk around the bus the right way,” she said.

Brister said the legislation gives his staff something torefocus on.

“Most of that we do anyway, now this is just a reminder torefocus. When an accident occurs we look at what we need to do, andthis will just bring school buses more to the front,” he said.

The legislation also suggests outside cameras for buses, somotorists who don’t respect the stop signs and the guidelines arecaught on film.

Barrett said there are currently cameras inside the buses, butnone on the outside. She said in the future that the schooldistrict might look into such equipment, but that it seems to be anew concept.

“I don’t have any idea what they cost, I didn’t know such athing existed,” she said. “It said in the legislation that it wouldbe for legal reasons, but I’ve never seen it at vendor shows orsafety meetings, so it’s new to me.”

Brister, too, was unfamiliar with exterior cameras, but alsosaid it sounds like a good idea for the future.

“I’m sure the manufacturers will have some ideas,” he said. “AndI’m sure some of the new buses will come out equipped with thesethings.”

Current Mississippi law states that if a driver passes a stoppedschool bus while children are present he or she could face$200-$500 in fines or up to one year in prison.

“Nathan’s Law” takes the current law even further.

For first time convicted offenders, “Nathan’s Law” wouldincrease mandatory sanctions to $500-$5,000, and license suspensionfor a period of 30 days. For any subsequent offense, it wouldincrease mandatory monetary sanctions to $800 or imprisonment fornot more than one year or both, and license suspension for a periodof 90 days.

In addition, a violation resulting in the death or injury of achild would be a newly defined felony, and the offender could besentenced up to five years in prison and fined up to $5,000.

Barrett said that in the city, drivers are usually cautiousaround the school buses, but Brister said he gets calls fairlyoften about people passing buses illegally.

“This make sure that if someone breaks the law or goes by anddoesn’t stop, something’s done to them,” he said. “We have a lot ofit, people don’t realize it, we have a lot of people that may breakthe law. We get calls often that people may go around the buses,and all we can do now is follow up the best we can.”