Buses to begin running Wednesday for start of Wood County school year

Photo by Michael Erb Wood County Schools buses start to line up at the district’s 19th Street bus garage in Parkersburg Friday, with some leaving to conduct “dry runs” of bus routes throughout the county.

PARKERSBURG — Officials are asking drivers to be patient and aware as nearly 13,000 Wood County students return to school next week.

Wood County Schools Transportation Director Richard Lance said operators were already going on “dry runs” this week to reacquaint themselves with routes and to find any issues, such as downed trees or construction.

“We have 89 bus routes, and we travel about 1.5 million miles in a year, including trips and school events,” Lance said. “We have about 9,500 students that are eligible for bus services, and any given school day about 50 percent are taking the bus to or from school.”

Lance said all drivers need to be aware that the start of school means more vehicles on the road as buses and parents take students to school, sports, activities and other school-related events.

“It’s a lot more traffic on the road,” he said. “Everyone needs to just be patient while they’re driving, give themselves a little more time to get where they are going.”

Lance said state law requires drivers to obey stop signs and flashing lights on buses when they are loading or unloading. Most of the district’s buses are equipped with video cameras which can be used to identify the license plate of anyone ignoring those lights, he said.

“With a recent change in state law, we only have to identify your vehicle. We don’t have to identify you as the driver,” Lance said. “If it is registered to you, we can go after the owner.”

Sheriff Steve Stephens said traffic control devices for school zones throughout the county will be active with the start of school.

“If you see those flashing lights, that is not a suggestion to slow down, it is state law to slow down,” he said. “People need to know, near the schools, especially in the rural areas, when those lights are flashing that is a 15 mile-per-hour school zone.”

Stephens said drivers also should be aware of foggy conditions in the early morning, which can make it hard to spot pedestrians, especially children.

“Also you are going to be seeing crossing guards helping cross children at intersections,” he said. “You should treat them the same as you would a law enforcement officer trying to control traffic.”

Stephens said law enforcement will step up patrols of school zones throughout the county and will be using radar to identify speeding or reckless drivers or those who ignore flashing school zone lights.

“The bus drivers are trying to do a job, and that’s to get our kids home safely,” he said.

Lance said parents should reinforce the need for students to be cautious when getting on or off the bus. Students need to look for traffic, look to the bus driver to know when it is safe to cross in front of the bus, and should not have phones out or earbuds in while exiting.

“They need to have their full attention focused on being safe for that 20 seconds or so,” he said.

Lance also said kindergarten, first- and second-grade students must be dropped off and picked up by a responsible adult, or the student will be taken back to the school. All students are advised to be at the bus stop at least five minutes before the pick-up times, he said.

“It’s all for safety,” he said.