Sheriff's officers monitoring of school buses back on track

Published 7:00 pm Monday, April 24, 2006

Better be careful trailing a school bus. You may never know who is watching you if you attempt to pass a stopped school bus - which is illegal.
After several months on hiatus, the sheriff's deputy school bus assistance program is back on track.
Implemented several years ago, the program was initiated by the Escambia County Sheriff's Department and the Escambia County Board of Education in response to the number of complaints about people recklessly driving vehicles and passing school buses while the buses are stopped, loading and unloading children.
Due to lack of manpower at the sheriff's department, the program was put on hold.
At random, an officer is placed in the front of the school bus while another officer trails behind at a distance in a squad car. The point is to stop reckless drivers and promote school bus safety on the buses.
Forty-three drivers cover W.S. Neal schools, Pollard McCall, Atmore and Flomaton schools. While no fatalities have been reported, in many cases, Escambia County school bus drivers said they have witnessed several close calls.
Some areas are worse than others.
Sgt. Steve Wyatt and Deputy Greg Forbes were on school bus detail this week. Forbes trailed behind while Wyatt opted to sit on the bus.
On one of the longest routes, Hwy. 31 north toward the Castleberry line, there were no close calls, and the children were well-behaved.
Wyatt said the department receives complaints from time to time regarding reckless driving on Hwy. 41 north toward the Wallace community.
Bill West, head of the county school buses, said before the program began, they had some pretty close calls. While the program is random, West said he felt if he had a problem during the week the officers would quickly respond.
Not only does the program stop people from passing the bus, it makes the kids behave better, West said.
Wyatt said he has his own opinion as to why people pass school buses.
Drivers who are caught passing a stopped school bus are ticketed and sent to a judge who sets the fine.
There is not a minimum fine listed in the sheriff's code book.