Remember when I introduced the Twelve Lunches column as one where we would address efforts to save the world? Well, read on for a great example with this guest post from Mandi.
When we first moved to Georgia in 2006, it was with apprehension I sent my oldest child off to Kindergarten. I walked her into class each and every morning (letting go is not a forte of mine; we’ll leave it at that). So when my child started exercising some independence and her desire to ride the bus home from school, I felt the apron strings tighten once again. Nonetheless, she joined with the other neighborhood children…and it was (surprisingly) a charming experience! I greeted my sweet little girl in front of our quaint little neighborhood each afternoon; it was lovely. I felt a great deal of independence myself, no carpool or traffic; I enjoyed joining forces with the school transportation. However the years that followed were met with increasing aggravation and anxiety as I realized the inherent dangers that come with riding the bus, namely passing motorists too busy to stop for the bright flashing red lights of the school bus. My neighbor Sheri and I watched motorists pass our children’s school bus for years. We took video, called the police, reported tag numbers, complained to the public school department of transportation, pleaded with the PTA for attention to this matter. We were met with “there is nothing we can do” around every single corner. We began carrying police flashlights to the bus stop, even considered purchasing a megaphone because clearly our waving arms, screaming voices, and dirty looks did little to convince drivers that flashing red lights and the bus driver’s honking horn meant STOP!
Video taken at our bus stop:
December 9, 2009, [the day our world changed] a kindergartener in my youngest daughter’s class was killed by a passing motorist as she was exiting the bus. The car squeezed between the door of the bus and her mother and newborn sister waiting on the sidewalk. Karla was within arm’s reach of her mother when she was struck. We vowed on that day that we would no longer sit by and watch motorists illegally pass school buses without trying to stop it. We would no longer take the “there is nothing we can do” answer from the police department, transportation department, and school district. My heart still weeps for this little girl and her family.
Click here for a Letter from a bus driver (very moving).
Sheri Lewis (my friend and next-door-neighbor) and I co-founded Operation Stop Arm of Georgia in the weeks following Karla’s death. Similar programs existed in other states and we followed suit. We discovered there were 13 children killed at bus stops, 5 of them from Georgia during the 2009-2010 school year alone. Though the existing law for passing a school bus was severe, it often went unreported. Bus drivers were to catch the details of a passing motorist, along with the tag numbers and description of the vehicle passing at 45+ mph, all the while maintaining a close eye on the children loading/unloading at each bus stop. This was not only dangerous, but unrealistic. Reports were still filed, but rarely followed through with an actual citation. Unless law enforcement witnessed the illegal passing of a motorist, once again, “there was nothing they could do.” A new law was needed to allow stop arm cameras to be placed on the outside of the bus to capture the images necessary to issue citations.
With the help of our school’s PTA , we organized a meeting in March 2010 with State Representative Don Parsons, Cobb County Police Captain, department of transportation for Cobb County Schools, our bus driver, and the school principal to discuss this issue and hopefully devise a plan of action. Rep. Don Parsons invited us to the State Capitol the following day to meet with his legal counsel and draft two bills, one to allow cameras on buses and one to form a Bus Safety Task Force. Sheri and I spent many days downtown, sitting in on committee meetings, brushing shoulders with state officials, trying desperately to get our pleas heard on the floor. We had several articles published in local papers and websites, even managed to snag a few media interviews and stories on the local news. We did our best, but ultimately we were too late in the session to get our bills through before the end of the session.
We made good progress, however, and gained the interest of several key players around the state. The following legislative year was a success in large part thanks to the help of lobbyists from GA Link fighting for the new bus camera bill. We never gave up hope. Representative Parsons and Senator Gooch co-sponsored Senate Bill 57 that passed with only minutes to spare in the 2011 Legislative Session! Sheri and I watched the live stream of the Senate session late into the night. Emails had been sent, text messages shared, prayers offered…finally our bill made it! With tears streaming down our faces, we held a virtual block party at midnight!
While the victory was sweet, it is with a heavy heart that we remember Karla Campos. Because of her, the lives of other children will be protected. We hope and pray motorists, bus drivers, school teachers, parents and children recognize the dangers that exist when entering/exiting the school bus and take precautions, and most importantly, STOP FOR THE BUS.
I am only one, but I am ONE.
I cannot do everything, but I can do something.
And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.
~Edward Everett Hale
When is it OK to pass? When is it mandatory to stop? What about medians, divided highways, passing lanes, neighborhood entrances, railroads? The Georgia Driver’s Manual has now been updated, and you will see Operation Stop Arm’s diagrams on their website! Read our most recent e-blast, follow us on Facebook, or visit our website www.operationstoparm.info for more details.