HAMLET — State troopers will have a visible presence Monday as students return to class across Richmond County, and 1st Sgt. A.K. Dietrich wants drivers to keep traffic safety laws for school buses and school zones in mind.
Dietrich said that the county’s number of investigated collisions between January and July 2014 has dropped significantly in all demographics since the same time in 2013, and the number of collisions involving school buses has seen a similar decline. But that’s no reason for drivers to let their guard down.
“We’re doing our best to make sure people are being safe out there,” Dietrich said. “Even with a reduced staff, we will have a presence at all schools in the county throughout the year, but especially as students return to school next week. We’ll be mainly around the school zones.”
While the N.C. Highway Patrol’s primary job is to enforce traffic laws and investigate wrecks in areas outside city limits, Dietrich said schools that do not have school resource officers on campus can expect visits from marked Highway Patrol cars to help reinforce the sense of safety.
“Some of the outlying schools do not have SROs on site,” he said. “We try to help them out by making school visits, conducting walk-throughs and having our troopers get familiar with the layout of each school building in case something ever did happen and we were needed out there.”
Dietrich said often, a parent will see a patrol car parked at a school and the office in Hamlet will be flooded with calls from people wondering what is going on.
“Usually there isn’t anything happening,” Dietrich said. “It’s just that we’ve stopped in to make a visit. Sometimes we don’t even get out of the vehicle. A trooper might be parked outside completing paperwork. But people should be more glad than worried if they see us at a school. It means we are there and keeping an eye on things.”
Dietrich hopes that all motorists will be aware of changing traffic patterns around the county as schools reopen for students Monday.
“The buses are going to be back on the roads and as you know, some schools change the entrance and exit patterns to make things run more smoothly,” he said. “But there will be people who don’t know about those changes in advance, and people who do. Just remember to drive defensively, to help out the people who might not understand traffic patterns at and around schools. And watch out for school buses and students. People should plan to leave home five minutes earlier than normal to allow for changes in the traffic flow and the time it takes to get to anywhere they’re going.”
Passing stopped school buses with stop arms extended and flashing red lights is a problem in North Carolina. With funding from the Governor’s Highway Traffic Safety Program, N.C. Department of Public Instruction and Institute for Transportation Research and Education at N.C. State University, the state sought bids for a stop arm violation camera system. The school bus cameras capture images of vehicles that pass stopped buses.
Dietrich said that of Richmond County’s 91 school buses, only two have been equipped with the stop arm cameras so far, but all drivers should act as if any school bus on any road is equipped.
On two-lane roads with or without a center turning lane, all traffic from both directions must stop when a bus extends its stop arms. On four-lane roads without a median, all traffic in both directions is required to stop.
On divided highways with four or more lanes with a median and on roads with four or more lanes separated by a turning lane, only traffic following the bus must stop.
Visit http://bit.ly/1wiIt8W to see a N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles graphic illustration that shows stopped school bus traffic patterns for all five types of roads.
Dietrich suggests all drivers review the rules before school buses begin crisscrossing Richmond County roads on Monday.
Reach reporter Melonie Flomer at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @melonieflomer.