MERCED — The start of a new school year will bring out more than 50,000 Merced County school children, and California Highway Patrol officials are stressing the importance of school bus safety.
Officer Jason Schoonhoven, spokesman for the Merced area CHP, reminded all drivers to pay extra attention near school buses and be ready to make frequent stops.
"Be prepared for kids to be in the roadway when the bus is stopping," Schoonhoven said. "When you see a bus stopping, assume there will be kids crossing the street. If someone is following a school bus, be prepared that they may stop at various locations all over the city and county."
With school buses transporting kids to more than 20 Merced County school districts, officials say the need for caution by motorists is even greater.
Officer Jeff Butticci, school bus officer for the Merced area CHP, said the biggest mistake drivers make is trying to pass a bus when it's stopped.
"It's not safe to pass a school bus because we don't want children to be hit by a car during the loading and unloading process," Butticci said. "We don't want passing during any of those types of procedures."
Butticci said the speed limit is 25 miles-per-hour for all school zones, and bus drivers are required to keep their red lights on during the entire time they're loading or unloading students.
Schoonhoven said the CHP takes several measures to ensure school bus drivers are meeting safety standards.
The agency tests school bus drivers every five years and reviews their 10-year driving histories. About 25 to 30 new and existing drivers are tested each month, Butticci said.
Butticci said he conducts unannounced ride-alongs with bus drivers on their routes and works with the school districts to improve safety.
The agency investigates all school bus accidents that occur with children on board.
If anyone observes unsafe driving by a school bus driver, they are asked to report it to the CHP.
At A Glance
According to the California Highway Patrol, the following are a few tips for driving safely around school buses:
Never pass a school bus when it has its red lights on or when it's loading or unloading students.
Keep your speed at 25 miles per hour or less.
Be prepared for frequent stops.
Never assume that children will not be crossing the street.
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.