Thousands illegally passing stopped school buses

Posted at 4:48 PM, Jan 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-22 16:48:30-05

Each day in Florida, kids are being put at risk on the way to and from school. ABC Action News has learned more than 43,000 careless Florida drivers illegally blew past stopped school buses in 2015.

Pasco County had some of the highest numbers of offenders, at more than 3,100 documented incidents by school bus drivers, according to new data from the Florida Department of Education.

In Polk County, drivers logged more than 2,900 incidents. In Pinellas, more than 1,900. In Hillsborough, a little more than 1,200. And in Hernando County, 132 incidents.

Earlier this year, school bus operators throughout the state participated in a survey to record incidents of vehicles illegally passing school buses. This survey documented the number and type of incidents (i.e., vehicles passing from the front or rear, and from the right or left, of school buses) and whether the incidents took place in the morning, midday or afternoon.

The survey findings suggest the most common illegal passing of a school bus occurs from the front and on the left side of the bus, during either the morning or afternoon, according to the Florida Department of Education.

Each day, Pasco School Bus Driver John Campanella does everything possible to keep kids safe on his bus route. He said the most critical, dangerous moments can be when kids cross the street to get on the bus.
"One time is when it makes the difference," Campanella said.

Unfortunately, he says texting behind the wheel and distracted driving remain huge problems in Pasco County. Campanella tries to avoid these drivers at all costs.

"When I sees somebody that's on the phone as I pass them, if they get behind me, I change lanes," he said.

"They're in a rush," said William Napolitano, Area Manager at the Pasco Schools Transportation Department. "They're trying to get to their appointments; they're trying to get to work."

Most stops take about one minute, but district leaders say a big problem is when kids with wheelchairs are loaded on. That's when people get impatient because those stops take about five minutes.

"They do need to understand that is somebody's child out there, and they need to pay attention," Napolitano said.

Drivers say they work to communicate with kids to make sure they don't cross until it's safe, but even so, they say it is not a guarantee.

"If a driver is being careless, just for that one moment, they are just not being conscious. All it takes is two people, just make that mistake at the same time," Campanella said.

District leaders and bus drivers alike said they don't want that mistake to take a child's life.