JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - Every child in Mississippi who rides a school bus should be able to get on and off those buses safely, but the reality is more and more children are losing their lives because of impatient or distracted drivers.
Four school districts in the metro area are working daily to keep students out of harm’s way.
School buses usually run at peak times for traffic. Mornings when drivers are heading to work and afternoon or late afternoon when drivers are done for the day.
On October 31, 9-year-old Dalen Thomas was walking across a highway in Marietta, Mississippi when he was hit by a pickup truck and killed.
The 22-year-old driver has been charged with aggravated assault.
“You see those school buses, you need to prepare yourself for them to stop,” said Mississippi Highway Patrol Corporal Kervin Stewart.
The same day, 6-year-old twin boys and their 9-year-old sister were hit and killed by a driver in Indiana, a fourth child was injured.
The very next day, five children and two adults waiting at a school bus stop in Tampa, Florida were injured when they were hit by a car. The children were 6 to 10-years-old.
“Just in a hurry, refusing to slow down,” Jamie Knott, Transportation Supervisor with Jackson Public Schools said.
In Clinton, drivers not stopping for buses or going around stopped buses is such a problem, police officers will board buses to spot problem areas and drivers who refuse to stop.
“Do not go around a school bus," said Sgt. Jason Hulitt with Clinton police. "Passing, we do not do. We’re not gonna tolerate that.”
“It’s easily avoidable to avoid problems and accidents when children are boarding the buses, just by drivers being aware,” added Lt. Micheal Kelly.
Clinton is not the only area dealing with drivers who don't obey the law, risking the lives of children.
“It is a problem," said Shane Sanders, Assistant Superintendent with Rankin County Schools. "If you have one, it’s a problem.”
“Our bus drivers, they complain a lot about people just blatantly, you know, breaking the law in regards to bus safety,” added Richard Burge, Associate Superintendent for Madison County Schools
“I know people are on the way to work, trying to get there and maybe running late, but you just take an extra step, or extra time you know, take a moment to realize the importance of a child’s life,” said LaCharles Brister, Transportation Supervisor with Jackson Public Schools.
Rankin and Madison counties use cameras as an extra precaution.
“We’ve always had three cameras on each bus in the body of the bus where the students sit, but just recently we have installed what we call the drive cam and it’s a camera system that is installed on the windshield," added Burge.
“As good as they are, they’re no replacement for those drivers who are looking after those students day in and day out,” said Sanders.
Clinton's Transportation Director says a few seconds can mean the difference in life or death.
“Most stops, you won’t be stopped no more than at bigger stops," said Donny Gray. "No more than 15 seconds for us to stop and start loading, but some people don’t respect that and they have to take a chance.”
Most stops average five or six seconds but since 2006, eight children in Mississippi have been killed getting on or getting off a school bus.
The numbers are staggering for near misses and every district WLBT spoke with says they have had close calls.
“In my opinion, if they pass one it’s a close call because there’s a kid within feet of where they are,” said Sanders.
“We did a survey last year with the state for the national and we had seven,” said Gray. "In one day, we had over 700 passerbys.”
“We’ve had close calls as well," said Stephanie Harris, Director of Transportation for JPS. "The good thing about it is our drivers have been very attentive. We’ve trained every month on safety.”
This question for drivers on multi-lane roadways like Old Fannin Road in Flowood:
If a bus is on the opposite side with flashing lights and the stop sign out, are you required to stop?
The answer is YES.
Unless there is a divider, it doesn’t matter which side of the roadway the bus is on, you are required by law to stop.
The hope of each school district is drivers will remember the faces of children we have lost over the last few weeks and remember every time they fail to watch out for school buses, they’re gambling with their future and the futures of children who ride the bus.
Every school district WLBT spoke with for this special report is taking extra precautions including training children in the classroom and on the bus to make sure they get an all clear from drivers before they cross or take a step onto roadways.
Nationwide, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, four to six school-age children die each year.
You can find tips and information from the NHTSA on how the agency is working to reduce illegal passing of school buses and information for parents on how to make sure their children understand the dangers here.
You can also see specific suggestions for reducing illegal passing of buses here.