LITTLE ROCK – Educators and traffic safety officials have expanded their annual campaign to alert motorists that students are returning to school, so everyone should be more careful driving because children are again getting on and off school buses every day.
This is the sixth year of the campaign, called “Flashing Red. Kids Ahead.” In the past it has lasted three weeks, and this year school officials, police departments and civic leaders will promote school bus safety for the entire month of August.
It’s little wonder that commuters notice the absence of students in summer and their reappearance in August. In Arkansas 350,000 students ride 7,000 buses every school day.
Transportation officials at the state Education Department promote school bus safety all through the year.
As part of their continuing efforts to enhance school bus safety, they conducted a survey of 3,200 bus drivers in April. On a single day, they reported 850 instances of a motor vehicle illegally passing a bus that was stopped to pick up or drop off children.
In 2005 the legislature strengthened the penalties for passing a stopped school bus that has its red lights flashing to indicate children are getting on or off. The enhanced penalties are in Act 2128 of 2005, which is titled Isaac’s Law in memory of a nine-year-old from Benton who was killed by a passing motorist after he had got off a school bus.
Since 2011, after the legislature approved Act 37, it has been illegal to use a cell phone while driving through a school zone. Act 37 also prohibits the use of a cell phone while driving through a construction zone while workers are present.
In 2009 Arkansas joined a long list of states that prohibit text messaging while behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. Previous laws had prohibited teenaged drivers from texting, but Act 181 of 2009 prohibits all drivers from texting.
That year the State Police worked 787 traffic accidents in which drivers were distracted by cell phones. Federal transportation officials say driver distraction is a factor in 16 percent of fatal crashes.
The State Police joined a nationwide safety campaign in April meant to prevent driving while distracted. It was called “"U Drive – U Text – U Pay."
In 2016, distracted drivers caused traffic accidents that killed 3,450 people in the United States.
Reading and sending text messages are not the only distractions that endanger motorists. Talking on a phone or using it to search the Internet is a distraction. So is eating, drinking or smoking. Talking to other people in your vehicle can create distractions. Adjusting the navigation system, turning on music or changing radio stations are also common distractions.
In September, police and traffic safety officials will conduct a child safety campaign, aimed at teaching adults to make sure that children in the car are always properly buckled up in an appropriate booster seat. That will be followed by Teen Driver Safety Week in October.
Car crashes are the leading cause of death for American teens aged 15 to 18. The discouraging news is that in 2016, when the most recent statistics were compiled, the number of teen deaths from car crashes went up by six percent over 2015.