CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - With the launch of the new school year, you will soon be seeing new safety measures in place at school bus stops across North Carolina.
Last month, the North Carolina Board of Education approved revisions to its school bus policy requiring bus drivers to use hand signals at bus stops to ensure student safety.
The move comes after five students in North Carolina were injured by drivers passing stopped school buses last year. Thirteen children have been killed since 1999.
According to research conducted by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction Transportation Services section, most school bus-related student injuries and fatalities stem from drivers who disregard the school bus sign.
"We have over 15 years of data to show that more than 3,000 cars per day are not going to stop. If we've got that information, then we know public awareness alone can't be enough to reverse this behavior, especially with more distractions out there on the road," said Derek Graham, section chief of NCDPI School Transportation Services. "The revised policy represents a more proactive approach to what bus drivers and students can do to stay safe even when other motorists don't adhere to the law."
Bus drivers will now be required to use a standard hand signal to tell students when it's safe to cross the street.
"The whole idea is to get the child's attention. No crossing the street with earbuds in," said Graham.
Bus drivers will give one more layer of security for students through a three-step series of hand signals.
First, the driver holds up his or her palm facing the student until it is safe to cross. Second, the driver gives a "thumbs up" to the students. For the third step, the driver points with his or her index finger the direction in which the child should proceed across the street.
Graham stressed communication between driver and student if it is dark outside.
"If there are no street lights and the signal is absolutely not visible, using the drivers dome light at least the student will have been trained to exercise caution and look carefully both ways," Graham said.
But if it helps improve safety, he and state officials are all for it.
"Once they get on the bus, we know that's the safest way to get to and from school," Graham said.
While State Board policy currently requires safety training for students twice per year, the revision requires training in each district to be documented and provided to all students, not just those who ride the bus.
While some districts may choose to implement revisions sooner, the revised policy is effective Jan. 1, 2016. For more information on the policy or school bus safety in N.C., visit www.ncbussafety.org/.