Statewide campaign seeks to keep students safe

Elisha Morrison
Staff Writer

As children and parents prepare to go back to school, school districts across the state are joining together to remind drivers “Flashing Red, Kids Ahead,” to keep bus riders safe.

The awareness campaign to remind drivers not to pass stopped school busses will begin its big push Wednesday leading up to the first day of school for many districts Aug. 13.

“Our world today travels at such a fast pace,” said Tom Farmer, director of transportation for the Bryant School District.
The campaign started after a Bryant student lost his life when a driver ignored the flashing red lights on the child’s bus and struck the juvenile.

“Isaac’s Law” was passed in 2005 to increase the penalties for passing a stopped school bus. Fines were increased to $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail.
Offenders can also receive up to 400 hours community service and their license suspended between 21 days and one year.

The law goes on to say every motor vehicle or motorcycle meeting or overtaking the school bus from any direction must come to a complete stop before reaching the bus when the bus stops and displays alternating red warning lights for the purpose of loading and unloading passengers.

The only time a vehicle does not have to stop, according to the law, is when there is a divided parkway or dividing strip of 20 feet and the vehicle is on the opposite side of the divider.
Farmer said the legislature also passed a law requiring bus drivers to report anyone who passes a stopped bus to local law enforcement.

Farmer went on to say Saline County has been fortunate in its prosecutor, Ken Casady, who takes these cases seriously and prosecutes those who violate Isaac’s Law. Farmer said there are officers who follow the busses to ensure violators are caught as well.
He said Bryant turns all its illegal passes in to Sgt. Paul Tarvin, the school resource officer.

Flashing Red, Kids Ahead began when Transportation Director of Arkansas, at the time, Mike Simmons asked Farmer for help creating a campaign to raise awareness for the problem.

Sherrie Benton, secretary for Bryant’s Transportation Department, came up with the catchy name. She recently won the Susie Everett Award from the Arkansas Association of Pupil Transportation for the name.

The campaign has spread statewide to keep children safe.
Farmer said when the student died it was one of the worst things he has ever experienced and never wants another director of transportation to go through that situation.

“When you see these things you take it seriously,” Farmer said.
He added that it affected the bus driver, the parents and the children on the bus.

Farmer said in 2017, a survey found that on one morning in Arkansas 857 illegal passes took place.
Farmer said every illegal pass puts students at risk.

“Is a child’s life not worth three to five minutes of our time?” Farmer asked.

Now, other states have become interested in expanding the campaign. Farmer has shared it with the 14 states in Southeastern States Pupil Transportation Conference.

Farmer said at Bryant, they focus on keeping the students safe.

Every Bryant bus driver, like in most districts, is trained on how to conduct a proper bus stop. They activate amber lights 300 to 500 feet before the stop. After pulling to a complete stop, they do a 360-degree check to ensure it is safe and no cars are coming. When they open the door, the flashing red lights deploy along with a stop sign and a cross arm to keep the children far enough out to keep them in sight.

“A flashing red light means stop,” Farmer said. “I don’t care where you are, stop.”
He said it takes responsible drivers to keep children safe, adding that drivers have two options: they can either wait patiently or leave early or late to avoid the bus. He said the busses will normally run in the mornings within five minutes of the same time.

He also advised that the busses will need the first few weeks to get used to new routes. Starting the week before school starts, busses will begin driving their routes to check for any problems.

Farmer said the district has changed many routes to ensure children are picked up on the door side of the bus to be safe.

Farmer is grateful for the support the Dwight and Susie Everett provide the campaign. Each year, they produce and air commercials about the campaign. This year, the family received permission to air the commercials outside of their normal market.
“If our promotion makes someone think and stop it could save a child’s life,” Susie said, adding she would love to see the campaign go nationwide.

The school districts in the state are working to raise awareness and keep students safe.
Farmer wants to remind drivers to be aware of busses and children as the new school year begins.