GUILFORD COUNTY - A local woman, in conjunction with efforts of the Guilford County Schools district, said she is taking action against an issue that has invoked personal frustration--drivers' passing of stopped school buses.
Bernadette Trinidad, founder of her "Respect the Zone" campaign, explained, "Over the years, I've driven down a school zone and gotten in front of drivers who try to speed ahead of me, so I would kind of take over their lane a little bit to keep them from passing at a fast speed."
Trinidad said her children attend Southwest Guilford High School and Southwest Guilford Middle School, and they also fuel her passion for bus stop safety awarenes.
"My goal is to see that drivers are responsible for their surroundings and follow the law at all times," she said.
"Respect the Zone" is a campaign to promote an increased driver awareness of activity, like speeding or passing stopped school buses, through school zones. Trinidad said she has received permission from Southwest Guilford High School to put "Respect the Zone" signs at the beginning and ends of the school zone and will be doing so on Monday.
Trinidad explained she has met with the school board, whom she said "loves the idea." But, she reiterated the board never officially approved the idea. She affirmed the board indicated she can distribute her signs, so long as she raises her own funding for them.
One sign, she said, costs about $22. Currently, her company Crutchfield Advertising is funding the project and will produce the website (which is up but under construction) and finance signage.
She said a district-wide adoption of "Respect the Zone" is her short-term goal, but her long-term objective is to be a part of the governor's safety program--which includes well-known safety campaigns like "Booze it or Lost it" and "Click It or Ticket."
GCS transportation director Jeff Harris said he appreciates Trinidad's efforts. Harris talked with News 2 Wednesday about bus stop safety precautions he wants parents and children to remember when the remainder of Triad schools resume Monday.
"Stand back at least 10 to 15 feet away from the roadway while waiting for the bus. When the bus arrives and makes a stop, make sure all traffic has come to a complete stop and look left, right and left again before crossing the street, just as you would do any time crossing the street," Harris said.
Harris said within the next few weeks, the 100 district school buses will launch a new pilot program in which bus drivers will give students a "thumbs up" or "go ahead" signal when it is safe for them to cross the street and get onto the bus.
He explained, "We will be training students during the first two weeks of schools on the hand signals and new processes involved with the pilot program."
He said the district is addressing liability concerns from the attorney general's office. But, he said it also is a liability not to act on addressing fatal incidents that have happened this past year. Four North Carolina students, including a student from Forsyth County, died last year as a result of being struck by drivers who passed stopped school buses. North Carolina's one-day survey last year indicated an average of 3,200 drivers pass stopped school buses each day.
Governor McCrory has signed into law a school bus safety act, named in honor of one of the four students killed at a bus stop last year. Under that law, drivers who passed stopped school buses will receive stiffer penalties, like heavy fines and license revocation.
Harris said he is hopeful the new law will help prevent bus stop accidents from happening.
GCS also is addressing safety within the bus. He said at GCS's annual bus driver orientation, the district focused on providing a "welcoming and safe environment for students on the bus." In that, he said the district discussed with drivers the proper policy for handling a disruption on the bus or instance of bullying or harrassment.
"The four points were to stop the bus at a safe location, call for assistance, make sure the other students on the bus are safe and try to stop or at least try to get some kind of assistance to stop the disturbance on the bus," Harris explained.
"But we tell drivers to be aware of their ability (to intervene), because we don't want the driver to be injured while trying to break up a fight. That leads to an even more unsafe condition on the bus," he added.
Harris said all buses, drivers and routes are prepared for the start of school on Monday.
WFMY News 2.