Education

Wake County changing how students board school buses

New boarding procedure for Wake school buses

Brianna Hickey, 11, a fifth-grade student at Wilburn Elementary School in Raleigh, explains the new procedure students will use to board Wake County school buses. Video by Keung Hui, khui@newsobserver.com
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Brianna Hickey, 11, a fifth-grade student at Wilburn Elementary School in Raleigh, explains the new procedure students will use to board Wake County school buses. Video by Keung Hui, khui@newsobserver.com

Wake County students will learn a new system for crossing the road to get on school buses. School leaders hope the method will improve safety for the 80,000 children who ride daily.

Starting with the new school year, which begins July 7 for year-round schools, students and motorists will be asked to wait a little bit longer before kids get on the bus. Instead of students sprinting out when the red flashing lights turn on and the stop-arm sign pops out, they’ll have to wait until the bus driver indicates it’s safe to leave the bus stop by also swinging out the crossing gate on the front of the bus.

School officials hope this new multistep process for boarding the bus will reduce the chances that students will get injured by motorists illegally passing stopped buses.

Students at Wilburn Elementary School in Raleigh demonstrated the new bus boarding system Tuesday, as the school system ramps up efforts to alert students and their parents about the change.

“It will be safer because the cars will stop,” said Ashly Vasquez, 10, a fifth-grade student at Wilburn. “I almost got run over by a car once.”

Since 1999, 13 North Carolina students have been killed by passing motorists as they got on or off the school bus. This school year, cars passing stopped school buses across the state seriously injured five students.

Daily, 3,000 to 3,500 automobiles illegally pass stopped school buses.

“We have years of data to show us that cars are not always going to stop when the school bus is stopped for loading and unloading of students with the red lights flashing and the stop arm extended,” Derek Graham, section chief of the state Department of Public Instruction’s transportation services division, says on a Wake school training video of the new bus procedures.

Traditionally, Wake students have been trained to leave the bus stop when the driver activates a switch that at the same time sets in motion the red lights, stop arm and crossing arm and opens the door.

But with $400,000 from DPI, all of Wake’s 900 buses have been retrofitted with a new multistep switch system. The new system is standard in newer buses but isn’t used in most of the state’s 13,000 school buses.

When the switch is first activated, only the flashing lights and stop arm will be activated. The bus driver will then check traffic before activating the switch again to deploy the crossing arm and open the door.

Students will be taught to wait for the crossing bar to extend fully and then to look left and right for traffic before leaving the bus stop.

School officials say the new process also provides an extra chance for bus drivers to check that motorists are obeying the stop-arm law.

In addition to making the change in Wake, the State Board of Education is also scheduled to vote in July on requiring bus drivers to use hand signals to let students know when it’s safe to cross. If approved, the change would take effect in January.

Hui: 919-829-4534;

Twitter: @nckhui

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