EDITORIAL – Respect school buses, protect Cayman’s schoolchildren

Road Safety 101: When you see red flashing lights on a school bus, stop your car. There is no excuse not to.

School buses in the Cayman Islands are impossible to miss. They are large and yellow. They have flashing red lights. They even have extendable “STOP” signs for the benefit of especially obtuse motorists.

Any driver who finds these instructions too subtle or confusing has no business being on the road.

Nevertheless, as the Compass reported this week, school bus drivers say that regularly, as they load and unload their young passengers, cars zoom right past them, breaking the law and endangering the lives of Cayman’s children.

“Pretty much every day, there is an instance,” said school bus driver Derren Burlington. “Last year, I had a car drive up on the sidewalk to get around and nearly hit a girl getting off the bus.”

He said his passengers have taken to shouting out warnings when they see a car that looks as if it is going to overtake the bus. Other drivers shared similarly distressing anecdotes. They described standing in the lane of traffic, physically grabbing students to pull them back from the path of a speeding car and parking their bus in such a way as to block all traffic, only to have cars pass them anyway.

Cayman seems to have more than its share of irresponsible, negligent and reckless drivers, but disregard for school buses is a particularly acute and potentially dangerous threat to public safety that must be addressed by law enforcement.

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

Of course, it is illegal for motorists to pass a school bus that has its stop arm extended – either from behind or in the opposite lane. Violations are punishable by fines of $150 or more, with penalties for passing on the right side of a stopped school bus reaching $1,000 and a suspended driver’s license. In this instance, the law is clear but, according to the bus drivers, the level of enforcement is not.

Police said they have heard unofficial and non-specific complaints but have not received any official police reports of this nature since the beginning of the school year, nor have they issued any tickets for failure to stop for a school bus. In light of the stories shared readily by bus drivers to the Compass, it appears obvious that police have the opportunity to take more forceful and effective action.

Police encourage anyone who sees a driver failing to yield to a stopped school bus to call 911 and report the incident. That sort of advice (“Call the cops.”) is the bare minimum for anyone who sees any crime being committed, at any time.

Some have suggested equipping buses with cameras to secure video evidence of lawbreaking motorists. That could help, in theory, but only if police and prosecutors are willing to follow through with investigation and prosecution.

As with all human activity, however, the overall trend will be determined by the accumulation of individual decisions. It is up to each of Cayman’s drivers to pay attention to their responsibilities and surroundings. If you see a school bus with red lights flashing – Stop.

Period.