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Unsafe Motorists Put Children At Risk

POSTED December 15, 2010 1:43 a.m.

A Valley Home School kindergartner had a close call recently as he boarded the bus for school one morning at the stop in front of his home on Valley Home Road.

Sabrina Henley’s (no relation) five-year-old grandson enjoys riding the school bus and had just climbed the bus steps and sat down in a front seat. According to several reports, a fast-moving, mini SUV with a female driver and a passenger came up behind the bus while it was pulled off to the side of the road to pick up the youngster, the vehicle swerved off the road onto the right shoulder, passed between the bus and a chain link fence, into the family’s driveway, through a flower planter, swerved back onto the road and kept on going.

“I just had a sick feeling that day,” said Henley, adding that her grandson had just boarded the bus a few seconds earlier. “I don’t want anything happening to him. That’s my goal.”

No one was able to get the vehicle’s license plate number, but there was damage done to its front bumper on the passenger side.

Henley made a report with the California Highway Patrol, and said that Valley Home Superintendent/Principal Kevin Hart also visited the scene. The CHP designates the bus stops and the decision was made that the bus will now pull into the end of the driveway to pick up Henley’s grandson for greater safety.

“It could’ve been a horrible tragedy but it wasn’t,” said Valley Home bus driver Bonnie Gellerman, adding that a couple of seconds sooner may have resulted in a different outcome.

She reported that a car in the oncoming traffic lane had appropriately stopped because the red lights were flashing on the bus. The boy had boarded and Gellerman was ready to pull away from the stop when the car coming up from behind nearly sideswiped the bus.

Hart said that the CHP acknowledged that bus driver Gellerman followed protocol, but after taking a closer look at the situation, a change was made because CHP’s prior protocol didn’t fit for the bus stop’s particular set up.

“We’re lucky,” Hart said. “I’m so relieved nobody got hurt over that.”

Oakdale Joint Unified School District bus driver trainer Kari Anderson said that whenever people are in a hurry, it’s going to cause them to be less safe. Additionally, the hustle and bustle of the holidays compounds the safety issues.

“When you see the yellow school bus, you need to be more careful,” she said. “People need to slow down a little bit and be more cautious.”

Anderson said that the weather elements such as fog and rain require that bus drivers be more defensive and more cautious. In dense fog, a strobe light on the bus is turned on so other motorists can see it better. She added that on rural routes, the buses get off the side of the road as far as possible, but sometimes the softness of the shoulder makes getting over any further unwise. For Oakdale, Anderson said that on approximately 85 percent of the rural route stops, the buses can’t pull completely off the road and have to be partially in the driving lane.

She said that many motorists don’t know the changing laws as they relate to buses, but she offered some information. About 200 feet before a bus stop, the amber lights are turned on – that means for other drivers to slow down, like a yellow light. At the bus stop, the red lights are immediately turned on, which is required by law, and it is to be heeded as a stop signal by other motorists. Any time the red lights on the bus are flashing and the stop sign is out, cars in both directions must stop. Anderson added that if there is a center median or a divider, such as a center turn lane, then traffic from the opposite direction does not have to stop but vehicles behind the bus do. She also said that on state highways, such as 120 or 108, where the speed limit is posted at 55 mph, bus drivers are not supposed to use the red lights. In those cases, the stops are situated so that the Oakdale bus drivers are able to pull completely off of the roadway. However, Anderson pointed out that Oakdale-Waterford Highway and Valley Home Road are not state highways and motorists typically drive too fast down country roads.

“Us bus drivers could use everybody to be more careful,” Gellerman said.

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