Back to school safety – Do you know the rules of the road?

MADISON COUNTY, Ala. - As the summer winds down for students across the Tennessee Valley, law enforcement officials are preparing to keep them safe. Alabama State Troopers say that includes monitoring how you're driving, particularly around school zones and school buses.

They ask you to familiarize yourself with the laws surrounding stopping for school buses. 

Trooper Curtis Summerville, ALEA Public Information Officer, said the law states you need to stop for a bus, regardless of what side of the street it is on and what kind of striping decorates the road. That is, unless you are on a highway divided by grass, concrete, or another type of barrier.

If it is a divided highway, you only need to stop if the bus is going the same direction you are.

Summerville said troopers and other law enforcement will be watching buses to make sure you are not passing them. But it is also important to make sure you are not stopping on the divided highways if you don’t have to. That can be equally dangerous.

“Crashes can happen because you get people who are stopping, some who are not stopping, and there may be rear-ends or near-crashes,” he explained.

The penalties for illegally passing a bus range from fines to suspension:

First Offense: $150-300 fine

Second Offense: $300-500 fine, 100 hours community service, 30 day driver license suspension

Third Offense: $500-1000 fine, 200 hours community service, 90 day driver license suspension

Fourth Offense: $1000-3000 fine, Class "C" felony, one year driver license suspension

You can find more about the laws here, including diagrams to help you better understand when and where to stop.

Another big part of back to school safety lies in school zone enforcement.

Each school zone has the flashing sign that dictates what speed you should go. Summerville said now is the time to refresh your understanding of where those areas are. When school is back in session, they will be watching.

“We are going to look for people who are speeding in school zones,” he said. “We encourage troopers that, time permitting, if they’re not on any other details, to oversee the school zones.”

Safety is not just on the drivers’ part.  The school bus drivers must also be careful.

But some school districts are also taking safety into their own hands by being proactive. Madison County Schools begins a fleet-wide pilot program with Synovial this week. 

Its transportation director said each one of the district’s 219 buses is outfitted with a device that monitors the bus speed and idle time, its route, even whether it opens the doors or deploys the stop sign on the side. 

The most important aspect is that it is a GPS that can locate a bus if it is running late.

The system notifies school principals and the transportation team when a bus goes outside a specifically set zone or if a driver is speeding.

Law enforcement, like the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, also has access.

If the program goes well, the district could agree to a full contract with Synovia down the road.