School bus safety is high on the list of every Westporter’s concerns.
Well, almost everyone.
As aggravating as it is to be behind a bus that stops at what seems like every driveway, most drivers grit their teeth and ride their brakes. It’s kids we’re talking about, after all, and this is the way buses operate in today’s society.
Some drivers can’t wait. They blow past the outstretched “Stop” arms that drivers extend. Often they come from the opposite direction. Sometimes they just race past a row of cars trailing the bus.
An “06880” reader recently chatted with a man who drives a Dattco elementary bus in Westport.
He enjoys his job very much. But when the reader noted that the job demands plenty of responsibility and patience, he said that drivers routinely ignore bus stop signs.
He said that just a few weeks ago, a speeding driver nearly hit a young girl. Her father yanked her back, as the car came near.
And, the driver continued, following up on incidents is a process. Video is reviewed by police. Then the driver must take half a day off to testify in court — losing pay, and other incentive compensation given for consecutive days on the job.
The driver’s perception is that even when the process works, if it’s a first offense there are seldom significant consequences for offending drivers.
That sounds pretty bad for Dattco, Westport’s school bus company.
But it’s not true.
I contacted Bryony Chamberlain, the company’s vice president. She said that any employee asked to go to court gets paid by the company.
She added that there are forms for drivers to fill out whenever their bus is passed by a vehicle. Dattco then sends the forms to local police departments, who mail a ticket for a $475 fine to offenders.
“I don’t know what happens after that,” Chamberlain said. “We don’t have a way to follow up.”
My next call was to Westport Police Chief Foti Koskinas. He confirmed what Chamberlain said.
There are 3 types of complaints about motorists passing school buses: from the bus drivers themselves; from other witnesses, and from police officers who sometimes follow school buses for just that reason.
The police contact the driver to hear their side. In almost every case, Koskinas said, a ticket follows.
The reader who contacted “06880” about school bus safety recalled a tragedy from the 1990s, which led to changes in policies.
It seems that Dattco, and Westport Police, are doing their part to ensure that every child gets on and off the bus safely.
Now it’s up to every driver to do the same.
School buses should be equipped with cameras that start recording in both directions as soon as the bus stops.
Unfortunately, I have witnessed this happening way too often for comfort. I think drivers stop for deer more often mostly because it could damage their cars a lot more and they don’t “think” they will hit anyone if they pass a school bus because they don’t “see” the children getting on or off the bus. They are in a RUSH and only consider their own timing. I wish I was wrong about this, but the only other reason I could come up with was that the offending drivers are distracted or just not paying attention and don’t even realize they are passing a school bus with a stop sign out.
My mom was a bus driver for Massiello when that horrible accident happened but if I remember correctly, that was not caused by another driver. It was a terrible, terrible freak accident.
In any case, I have not lived in Westport since 2000 but my town has the same problems and our PD is super vigilant about it. Many years ago, when my daughter was in elementary school, she was almost hit by a driver who didn’t feel like stopping for the bus signals. I was able to get the license plate and reported it, as did the bus driver (this was before cameras in busses). The officer came to my place of work to take the statement and later that day called to tell me that the driver was cited and had already said that they would be fighting the ticket because the bus wasn’t properly stopped, he’s a very important doctor, and “That kid’s mother is probably crazy anyway”. He also denied it at first and said the bus driver and I both must be mistaken. Since my daughter was literally walking up the steps of the bus, I find the driver’s excuses intolerable and entitled. Anyway, I don’t know the end result but the good doctor would drive by everyday and if we were out waiting for the bus, he would flip me off.
The officer who helped me told me a very interesting fact. A stopped school bus with lights flashing take precedent over any other vehicle, including police cars, fire trucks, ambulances and any other emergency vehicle.
When I attended elementary school at greens farms school the bus didn’t stop at every driveway or every other as they seem to now . For over forty years In the northwest Pacific the law says timber trucks must pull over if more than six vehicles are following. A CT law that says buses must let cars (in excess of # ?) pull over for passing eliminating long lines of cars/traffic behind buses would make for safer bus travel for all concerned. Meanwhile, bus drivers could allow cars to pass in a safe manner when stopped and help eliminate the slow pace that is a major cause of the congestion…a win/win… .
My recollection is that the two things I learned first when I began driving were never leave the scene of an accident and honor the school bus rules.
Let’s get creative. Sign should be posted on front and back of bus: “STOP, VIDEO CAMERA IN USE, FINES OF $1,500” – or something like that wording. Also, the fine should be changed to $1,500 – more likely to stop someone from doing again or even in the first time.
What was the tragedy in the 90s?
Seth, a little girl was getting off the bus at her stop and the string from her hood got stuck in the bus door. The driver was unaware and she ended up being dragged under the bus. It was horrible.
I had left Westport by this time but none of my remaining relatives ever mentioned this. Absolutely HORRIBLE. Consequences for the driver? Any procedural corrections for the bus company? There should be some type of memorial/observance on the first day of school as well as a scholarship in remembrance of this little girl so that everybody thinks, takes a deep breath and says a (nondenominational) prayer before they press the accelerator.
I can remember this event too – my wife and I knew the driver and his family. It was a ghastly tragedy and one so improbable that it seemed like something out of a supernatural horror movie. To this day I think about it every time I’m anywhere in the vicinity of an active school bus. If the bus appeared to be slowing in traffic, I’m pretty sure I would come to a full stop even if there were no signs telling me to do so.