Bus drivers ask public to stop for kids

Michael Lemay says he has had to jump into the road to keep a driver from possibly hitting children getting off his school bus.

Fellow driver Kaz Tatum said he once physically grabbed a teenage student and pulled him back into the bus to avoid a car speeding by.

Both men said they wish Cayman’s drivers would observe the vehicle laws and stop when they see a bus’s red lights flashing. Most drivers follow that rule, the drivers said, but many do not.

“They don’t give no respect at all,” said Mr. Tatum, sitting in the break room at JerNat Transportation, which serves schools in the Bodden Town area, “even when we cross up the road to block traffic with our lights flashing. Numerous times, we have to hold back the kids because of crazy drivers.”

Mr. Lemay said such situations happen far too often.

“Every day,” he said.

Mark Ray oversees transportation for the Department of Education, dealing with the seven companies contracted to provide bus service for the government schools. He has heard the concerns of drivers during his four years with the department. Many of those concerns involve other motorists on the road.

“They really need to stop and wait until students are boarded,” he said. “At the end of the day, this is our most precious resource.”

The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service recently issued a release on bus safety, saying officers had been noticing violations and public complaints regarding motorists passing stopped buses had increased.

“When a school bus makes a stop to pick up or drop off a passenger, vehicles travelling behind the school bus, or in oncoming traffic, must stop and allow passengers to cross,” the release said.

Fines for passing a stopped school bus start at $150. Motorists passing a stopped bus on the right can be fined $1,000 and have their license suspended for a year.

But bus drivers said they do not believe the laws are regularly enforced.

Derren Burlington, 49, said he was in law enforcement for 19 years. For the past three years, he’s been driving a bus for Smith’s Transport, which serves John Gray High School and the Cayman Islands Further Education Centre.

“I’ve made numerous reports to the police,” Mr. Burlington said. “Every day, I take pictures [of violators] and send them to my boss. No one has come to me and said, ‘We’re going to find this person.’ I don’t hear anything.”

JerNat Transportation’s Mr. Lemay said he has never received a response to complaints he’s filed with the police.

“The majority of the time, they say they’re busy and they don’t have anyone to assist,” Mr. Lemay said, adding that he has seen police cars pass him when he’s stopped to take on or let off schoolchildren.

Police say they have no record of a complaint filed by Mr. Lemay.

A statement by police said, “Since the start of September, there have been no reports made to the police regarding the offence of overtaking a school bus.” While unofficial complaints have been made to officers, those complaints often come hours or even days after an incident and “quite often, there [is] no license plate information provided with this information, which makes it impossible to identify the person involved in the incident,” the police statement continued.

No traffic tickets have been issued for such violations. The statement said it has no record of complaints about police vehicles violating the law.

“If a member of the public witnesses this kind of driving from a police officer, especially in a police vehicle, then we would like to know about it,” the statement said. Anyone observing such an incident, it said, should call 911 and report the vehicle’s identification number.

Mr. Burlington said he has not seen police or other government vehicles illegally pass his bus, but the public buses regularly violate the law requiring that they stop for a school bus. Mostly, though, it is private vehicles racing by.

“This morning it happened,” he said. “Pretty much every day, there is an instance.

“Last year, I had a car drive up on the sidewalk to get around and nearly hit a girl getting off the bus,” he added.

Kids sitting in the back of the bus will often shout out warnings when they see a car approaching that looks as if it is going to overtake the stopped bus.

He said he tries to give drivers ample warning of an impending stop by turning on his flashing yellow lights 200 to 300 feet before a stop. At 50 feet before the stop, he turns on his red flashing lights and extends his stop sign. Frequently, he will pull across the opposing traffic lane to block the road entirely.

“Cars are still flying by,” he said.

Mr. Burlington said the solution would be a combination of educating drivers about the law, combined with enforcement.

But, he also finds it hard to believe that people do not realize they are supposed to stop for a bus with flashing lights. Directions to do so are printed on the rear of the bus for motorists to see.

“All of the buses are properly labeled and there are a lot of lights,” he said. “Either you can’t read, or you just don’t care.”