School bus safety is a priority

Every day, buses traverse the city streets and back roads of Lycoming County to transport students to and from schools.

Stop by any school in mid afternoon, and one will encounter a fleet of buses waiting to transport students home.

Hepburn-Lycoming Elementary School is no different.

On Wednesday, Old Lycoming Township Police Officer Robert Cochran followed a particular bus carrying that school’s children to bus stops scattered throughout the Williamsport Area School District, most of them living off Route 973, a narrow two-lane road which winds its way through hilly farmland.

It all was part of Operation Safe Stop, a proactive approach to educating the public that passing a stopped school bus when children are loading or unloading is both dangerous and illegal, according to Chris Smith, highway safety specialist for the Community Traffic Safety Project.

Law enforcement agencies, school transportation providers, pupil transportation associations and the state Department of Transportation have combined their efforts to raise public awareness about the potential consequences of illegal school bus passes and to reduce their occurrence, she noted.

Cochran said police occasionally get reports of motorists speeding through bus stop areas.

But for the most part, things are quiet.

He said bus drivers as a general rule are competent and careful drivers.

They have to be.

Carrying large numbers of students requires drivers to exercise the utmost in safety and caution.

Cochran explained that drivers must turn on the flashes of their buses between 150 feet and 300 feet before they come to a stop.

“This is a really dangerous right here,” he said, as the bus came to a stop near the crest of a hill where it was impossible to see oncoming traffic.

With houses scattered among the hills on each side of Route 973, a bus traveling the route must make stops to drop off children in some precarious spots.

Some bus stops were close to curves in the road, and with virtually no roadside berm there was little room for oncoming vehicles to get past.

At every bus stop, young children freed from the confines of school after a long day inevitably would flee the bus for rural homes close to the road or tucked against hillsides farther away.

In some cases, children had to walk across the road to reach homes on the other side.

That puts more demands on bus drivers to make safety a priority.

At different bus stops, parents in vehicles could be found waiting for their children to get off the bus.

In no cases, did Cochran note any violations.

Cochran said when the township receives reports of speeders in bus route areas, police try to take prompt action to monitor the situation.

“We try to get out as soon as we can,” he said.

However, with about eight full-time officers and one part-timer covering three townships, police cannot be everywhere.