PARKERSBURG - On a typical day, drivers on Wood County Schools 94 bus routes see drivers disregard the stop lights on buses, endangering safety of the students boarding or exiting buses.
Richard Lance, Wood County Schools director of transportation, said people ignoring the school bus stop sign is an all too common problem in Wood County and across the country.
"It's a big problem everywhere," he said. "We have 94 bus routes, including special needs, and if it (running the stop sign) happens just one time, it's a problem."
Photo by Jeffrey Saulton
Wood County Schools bus operator Bob Carpenter watches as cars stop for the bus stop sign as he runs his route in the south Parkersburg area Tuesday.
Lance said bus operators have reported as many as seven instances in one day of motorists ignoring the school bus stop sign.
"That was just one route," he said. "It is a problem here."
On Tuesday, local media were invited to ride along on a route transporting students from Martin Elementary School, Edison Middle School and Parkersburg South High School.
Bob Carpenter, Wood County Schools bus operator, drove his normal route.
During Tuesday's route no drivers ran the stop sign; however, there was a close call at a stop along Pike Street near the Patriot Center. Carpenter blew his horn and motioned for the driver, who was attempting to turn right on to Pike Street, to stop.
Carpenter said many bus operators have taken advantage of a state law allowing bus operators to swear out a warrant in magistrate court for drivers who fail to stop.
"Several drivers have gone to court," he said. "The reason I haven't is I have so many who run my lights; it's constant."
Carpenter said he has seen several drivers ignore the stop signs on more than one occasion.
"Those are the ones I would be more apt to take to court," he said. "There is one I've seen go through twice and I've made up my mind that if I see them again, I will go to court."
Carpenter said buses now have a tool to help combat the problem.
"We have a camera on the side of the bus now and if someone goes through we can get their license plate number," he said.
West Virginia State Police Cpl. M.A. Mayhugh said West Virginia Code 17C-12-7 covers the penalties for failing to stop for a school bus.
"For the first offense it can mean a fine of $150 to $500 plus court costs and/or not more than six months in jail and a 30-day suspension of their license," he said. "On a second offense the fine is not less than $500 and/or six months in jail and a third conviction is a minimum of a $500 fine and no less than 24 hours in jail but no more than six months."
Mayhugh said a second offense will result in a 90-day suspension of a driver's license and a third conviction will result in a 180-day license suspension.
If bodily injury or death occurs, it is a felony, he said.
According to the code, the penalty for causing bodily injury is no less than one year but no more than three years in prison and a fine no more than $2,000. If a death occurs, the penalty is one to 10 years in prison and a fine no less than $1,000 but not more than $3,000.
Lance said one misconception many have concerns who has to stop when they encounter a bus on a multi-lane highway.
"If there is no divider such as a median strip or concrete barrier, all traffic has to come to a stop; even if you are opposite of the bus, you must stop," he said.