LAURINBURG – The sheriff’s office and the Scotland County Schools have done their homework in preparation for the new school year.
The two groups are spearheading a program aimed at improving safety for students and drivers as the 2017-2018 school year gets underway. The effort focuses on school bus safety, preventing drivers passing stopped school buses and speeding through schools zones. Students returned to school on Monday.
The sheriff’s department has increased patrols around schools during pick up and drop off and will place deputies on buses at random points throughout the year to catch stop arm violators.
The deputies on buses will be accompanied by a sheriff’s patrol car somewhere in the vicinity so that if an infraction is seen it can be called in and the driver can be stopped and ticketed, according to Scotland County Sheriff Ralph Kersey.
The deputies will be accompanied by a sheriff’s patrol car somewhere in the vicinity so that if an infraction is seen it can be called in and the driver can be stopped and ticketed, according to Sheriff Ralph Kersey.
“The last school bus fatality that I can think of in the area was in Robeson County years ago. We haven’t had any in Scotland County in the last 30 plus months and that’s just by the grace of God,” Kersey said.
If drivers are ticketed it can cost them five points on a license and fines up to $1,000.
The school system’s transportation department approached the sheriff’s office with concerns over the number of stopped school bus violations.
Julius Dockery, transportation director for the school system, said there were anywhere from 100 to 150 incidents of cars passing a stopped school bus in the last school year.
“In an average day, we have two or three in the morning and four or five in an afternoon,” Dockery said.
Kersey reviewed footage recorded by cameras currently in use on county buses and decided on a course of action. He had used a similar program of officers on buses in his years with the state Highway Patrol and thought it would work for Scotland County.
If bus drivers see a driver pass a bus, they call the incident into the bus garage who then relays the information to the sheriff or police.
Drivers also fill out a form with details of the incident. If the bus is equipped with a camera a picture of the car will be taken and relayed to authorities, according to Dockery.
Ten of the county’s buses currently have cameras to help catch violators, but Dockery hopes to add more this school year.
The money comes from a state grant. The county received $30,000 last year. Each camera costs around $3,000.
Lt. Daryl Ford is heading up the sheriff’s office’s efforts to increase traffic safety around schools.
Ford believes a lot of the problem may be due to distracted drivers.
“People rushing to work, rushing to get kids to school, that’s the main reason we have so many violations,” Ford said.
In July, Gov. Roy Cooper recently signed a bill into law that would increase the penalties for those who pass stopped buses.
The law gives counties authority to levy civil penalties up $1,000 for motorists who drive past stopped buses and allows school boards to turn over video of offenders to local law enforcement to be used as evidence.
The law would have to be enacted by the county board of commissioners, and Ford is hoping that Scotland County’s board will do so.
“The sheriff’s office and the school board hope that the commissioners will activate a new school bus violation stop arm law.”
The stepped up patrols are already paying off. Ford issued two citations for speeding in a school zone in the Laurel Hill area on Wednesday.
Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169