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Drivers beware: School safety not just important for kids

August 24, 2012

These students were setting an example for back to school safety last week at Punxsutawney Area High School. Shown disembarking in front of an STA/Krise school bus (from top): Bill Beam, driver for STA/Krise Bus Service; Katelyn Perry, Hayley Beam and Brett Starr, Punxsutawney Area High School Students. (Photo by Larry McGuire/The Punxsutawney Spirit)

PUNXSUTAWNEY — In case you haven't noticed, between all of the "Back to School" ads and commercials, it's time for the kids to head back to school this coming week, which means motorists need to keep their eyes open for students walking to school or to bus stops.

"I think it's a good idea to review the proper entrance and exit on school buses," said Dr. Keith Wolfe, Punxsutawney Area School District superintendent.

Wolfe said everyone thinks that they are familiar with the many safety issues, but sometimes there are changes.

"Quite honestly, these refreshers help keep people safer, and they get into a pattern that they're comfortable with what they are doing, and their guard comes down just a bit," Wolfe said, adding that drivers need to review the traffic laws that were made to keep the kids safe.

Wolfe said the district has not changed any of the traffic patterns at any of its schools in the district.

"We'll have teachers and administrators at the different buildings just so the people understand, especially at the elementary schools and for new students who may be transferring into our district who may not know those things," Wolfe said.

Cheryl Repik, transportation director, Punxsutawney Area School District, said motorists need to be aware the buses will be back on the road on Tuesday.

"They need to be paying attention to when the lights are on as they are driving," Repik said, adding that drivers need to be especially aware of where stops are located and watch for students who are waiting for buses, often times in poor lighting.

"Some bus stops have signs, which are only required if there's a sight distance problem," she said. "Many of the stops you can see for long distances, and those have no signage."

She said all of the buses with both contractors, STA/Krise Bus Service and Tri-County Transportation, have cameras on board.

"The cameras show the inside of the bus, outside pointing out the windshield and the entrance door," Repik said.

Sgt. Carl Medsgar, Punxsutawney-based Pennsylvania State Police, said motorists definitely need to be aware, because if they get caught failing to stop for the red flashing lights on a school bus, they'll receive a $250 fine, five points on their license and a 60-day driver's license suspension.

"We'll be watching the school zones also and running radar in those (areas) keeping people slowed down," Medsgar said, adding that the Punxsy district is a rural school district, and the state police is a rural police department.

Punxsutawney Borough Police Chief Tom Fedigan said his department has been looking at Jenks Hill Elementary School a lot lately, along with school district administrators.

"I talked with the principals, district administrators and Punxsutawney Borough Council trying to make changes to alleviate the congestion at that particular school building," Fedigan said, adding that there is no good solution to that issue.

"There are a lot of people in a small amount of space," he said. "We'll continue to work at it, we have some plans for the first day this year and we'll just play it day-by-day."

Fedigan said he wants to remind the town, the community and the motorists about playing it safe, especially on the first day of school.

"Everyone needs to especially pay attention to the students who walk to school. Typically, kids may not walk as much in the summertime. Walking to school is new to them, and the first day of school they have to journey out there. Between the school and local law enforcement, we want to educate them on the rules and laws for pedestrians," Fedigan said, adding that the laws regarding pedestrians can be complicated for kids to learn.

"If kids can, they should come to school the first couple of days with a parent or somebody older to help them and instruct them on the laws of pedestrians," he said. "Of course, the motorists are the key here; they have to pay special attention this time of year."

Fedigan said his officers will be monitoring all of the school zones that are located in town.

"We can't be there every day at school hours; we'll continue to monitor those, set up our ENRADD speed clocking device and do speed enforcement," he said. "There's no room for leniency when it comes to school zones; you've got to go 15 mph, it is in place for a reason."
He said he spoke with school administrators about setting up a detail to make sure students who drive to school are using their seatbelts.

"We'll maybe use some students to help, have the football team and cheerleaders out on the detail to help spread the word as to how important seatbelts are," Fedigan said.

Shawn Houck, PennDOT District 10 press safety officer, said back to school time is all about safety.

Houck said, by law, motorists approaching from all directions are required to stop at least 10 feet from a school bus with its red lights flashing and stop arm extended.

"The only exception is when a driver encounters a school bus stopping on the opposite side of a highway, clearly separated by a divider, such as concrete barriers or grass medians," he said.

Houck said even in this situation, motorists should be alert for students trying to cross the road to catch the bus.

"These yellow and black buses are carrying our most precious commodities out there: our children," Houck said.

"Everyone driving on the highway should want to be sure those kids are safe, for a long time to come," he said.

For more information on Pennsylvania’s school bus stopping law, school bus safety tips and programs, visit PennDOT’s highway safety website, www.JustDrivePa.org, and select the “School Bus Safety” link under the Traffic Safety Information Center.

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