Police are out in force across Wake County this week to enforce traffic laws and protect traditional-calendar students who are beginning a new school year.
More than 730 Wake County school buses are back on the road transporting more than 70,000 riders now that summer vacation is over. Law enforcement agencies such as the Cary Police Department and Wake County Sheriff’s Office have extra personnel in and around school zones to make sure drivers and students are obeying traffic safety laws.
“Once school’s out, drivers get accustomed to the buses not being there,” said Lt. Tom Stewart of the Cary Police Traffic Safety Team. “They may go a little bit faster.
“But once they realize school is back in, typically after the first two or three days, their driving patterns start to correct themselves as they recognize that safety is the number one priority for our kids.”
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Monday morning saw one of the better starts to the new school year in Cary in recent years, Stewart said. Wake school officials reported the usual first day of school transportation issues with drivers and students getting back into the routine but said things went well overall.
Traffic safety is an issue as statistics show that more than 3,000 North Carolina motorists illegally pass stopped school buses each day. Fourteen students statewide have been killed by cars illegally passing stopped school buses since 1998, with the most recent fatality occurring in March in Onslow County.
On Friday, State Schools Superintendent Mark Johnson sent a letter to all North Carolina principals reminding them of the state requirement to teach students about bus safety at the start of the school year. He said it’s critical for students to know the role they play in ensuring their own safety.
“This training in essential,” Johnson says in the letter. “Students need to know what’s expected of them and what is expected of their bus drivers.”
The start of the new school year also means motorists are required to slow down when going through school zones.
The Wake Sheriff’s Office released a statement saying deputies “will be out in full force conducting special operations on school bus routes and in school zones.”
“Remember that children will be excited and are unpredictable in their actions,” according to the sheriff’s office. “Use extreme caution when traveling in a school zone and when students are getting on and off the school bus.”
In Cary, police are conducting the annual School’s In/Speed’s Out campaign on weekdays through Sept. 8. Stewart said there will be an increased police presence in school zones with officers on foot and in marked and unmarked cars.
“High visibility is one thing we shoot for, but we also try to be in areas where we don’t stand out quite so much to make sure the rules are enforced,” he said.