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School bus safety must be priority

State and local police and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation should not have to remind motorists — or spend time and money posting special signs in specific areas — about the commonwealth’s law dealing with school buses stopped for the purpose of picking up or dropping off children.

Drivers who violate that law — the major provisions of which they should have learned accurately and completely when they were preparing for their driver’s test — never should warrant just a warning.

The problem is too serious and potentially deadly for a proverbial slap-on-the-wrist, in hopes that the violator will not commit the same offense again. All of the penalties on the books for such violations should be meted out when a motorist is convicted of such serious, irresponsible conduct.

The violation carries a $250 fine and $35 surcharge, five points on the violator’s driving record and a 60-day driver’s license suspension.

Nevertheless, police and PennDOT opted in recent days for a friendly gesture — via signage and a statement to the Mirror — reminding drivers about the school bus law.

The reminder was deemed necessary because of a growing problem on busy Plank Road between the Meadows Intersection and Convention Center Drive.

As reported in the Dec. 10 Mirror, Allegheny Township police have received an increase in reports about drivers not stopping in that area for school buses in the process of picking up or discharging young passengers.

Because that section of Plank Road is not a divided highway — no physical barriers such as grass medians, guardrails or concrete medians are in place there — drivers headed in both directions must stop when a school bus’ red lights are flashing and its stop arm is extended.

State law requires that a vehicle approaching a stopped school bus with its red lights flashing must stop at least 10 feet away from it. That is required when a vehicle is behind a bus, meeting a bus or approaching an intersection where a bus is stopped.

Also, when following or traveling alongside a bus, a vehicle must stop until the red lights have been shut off, the stop arm has been withdrawn and all children have reached safety.

The Pennsylvania School Bus Stopping Law is built on a foundation of common sense. However, the law emanates from a time long ago, before cellphones and text messaging.

The school bus-related law should mandate a much larger fine if a violation occurred while a driver was talking on a cellphone — thus, not paying full attention to his or her driving. A driver who, while texting, passes a stopped school bus receiving or discharging passengers should face even tougher penalties.

It is against the law to text-message while driving in Pennsylvania.

Until the already issued reminders about Plank Road “sink in,” a beefed-up police presence should be assigned there during times when school buses will be on it.

That kind of stronger statement might someday save a child from being injured or worse.

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