A danger to our children

Floyd County has its share of dangerous drivers on the roads: Those who venture over the center line on turns, drive 15-to-20 miles per hour over the speed limit, fail to turn on their lights in the rain or a dusk or dawn and those distracted by talking on cell phones while hurtling down the highway.

But the dangerous drivers who scare me the most are some who drive the school buses that take our children to and from the county’s five schools.

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve watched a school bus run the stop sign at Barberry Road and East Main Street in Floyd. Sometimes, three or four school buses in a row will run the sign without pausing. Last week, I had to brake hard and bring my Wrangler nearly to a stop when a bus pulled out onto Main Street without stopping.

I’ve clocked school buses running at 55 miles per hour or higher in the section of U.S. 221 north of Floyd where the speed limit is 45.  Some of them start speeding up as soon as they pass Floyd Pharmacy and hit 50 in the 35 mph zone. Recently, I followed a school bus on the dirt section of Sandy Flats Road that runs between Shooting Creek and Harvestwood. I was running 35 and the bus pulled away easily on the narrow, rutted, dirt road.

I’m sure most of the operators of the county’s school bus systems are careful drivers who consider the safety of the children they ferry to and from school. But we have some hot dogs who drive dangerously and it is only a matter of time before some of our children are killed or mangled by their irresponsible actions.

26 thoughts on “A danger to our children”

  1. …I listed the speed (35 miles per hour) I was driving on the dirt road (which was narrow and rutted in the section). I grew up on dirt roads around here and have no fear of them. But I do have respect for others on the road and don’t drive like a fool. Unfortuantely, too many others do.

    A number of Virginia counties, including Clarke, Fauquier, Frederick, Loudoun, Montgomery, Warren and Wythe have a 35-miles-per-hour limit on dirt roads. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration in 2007 recommended a limit of 35 on dirt roads, nothing that speeds between 35 and 55 increased traffic accidents tenfold in studies.

    An engine speed governer does not prevent a school bus from breaking the speed limit in a 35 or 45 mile zone. An engine speed govenor does not prevent a school bus from breaking the 55 mph speed limit on downhill stretches.

    An engine speed governor does not stop a bus driver from running a stop sign at East Main and Barberry Road (or other intersections).

  2. As I said in the original post:

    I’m sure most of the operators of the county’s school bus systems are careful drivers who consider the safety of the children they ferry to and from school.

    I also made it clear from the outset that I was talking only about "some" drivers. It doesn’t matter how well a driver knows the road. Speed is dangerous. So is running a stop sign. I hold competition racing licenses from both the Sports Car Club of America and the Porsche Club of America Club Racing circuit and other sanctioning bodies but that doesn’t give me the right to drive at high speed on a public road. It doesn’t place me above the law.

    If even one bus driver operates in an unsafe manner it puts dozens of children at risk. I have witnessed more than one driver operating at speeds above the speed limit and running stop signs. Others who have posted here have provided similar accounts. Should we overlook this simply because most of the drivers are law-abiding and because there hasn’t been a serious accident yet? Do we have to wait for a child to die?

    I’ve lost loved ones at the hands of a dangerous driver. I make no apologies for the language or approach that I use. If it takes one unsafe driver off the road it is worth it. Drivers who obey the law and consider the safety of the children in their charge have nothing to fear from what is written here. Only those with something to hide do.

  3. most buses are governed to 50ish. they take FOREVER to get up to speed. really, they’re slightly faster than logging trucks. bus drivers are just trying to get kids home as quickly and safely as possible.
    why are you so scared of dirt roads? honestly i cant remember a bus pulling away from me. ever. how slow do you drive?

  4. Having had my own children and grand children ride the public school buses for years and living on a back road myself I am familiar with this issue.

    I also know that the post on this site has been delivered in hard copy to every bus driver in the county. So they are all already – very aware of your citizens report. The squeaky wheel has found grease.

    Despite your reports – the record of the school bus student transportation system in the county speaks for itself. Given the reality of the miles of back road driving, other poor drivers on the public roads,tight schedules and expectations by the many interests here – there is also a fair opportunity to compliment the many safe and successful school bus drivers we have.

    This is not an easy job and it doesn’t exactly pay very well either considering it ties up most of anyone’s day that drives a school bus. It probably pays as much as the folks saddled with the responsibility of running our public educational system in this small county and accompanying small budget can afford.

    I think the familiarity with these routes tends to lend itself to a more comfortable drive for these seasoned bus drivers than the average driver. This doesn’t mean that there is any excuse for speeding. However if you have driven a school bus on a small back road it is easy to understand how taking your half out of the middle of the road is about the only way to keep the entire bus on the road and not dropping the back wheels in the ditch. Sometimes these back roads are so crooked that keeping it all in the road is actually impossible.

    I think your recent post of the poor driving habits of the public in general are quite appropriate, maybe more than generally targeting community members (for the actions of a few) that are providing a necessary public service by driving these buses.

    The school system is always looking for bus drivers so anyone that wants that job can probably get one.

    The post could have focused on the positive majority of bus drivers instead of the negative few. The post includes unnecessary words like “killed or mangled” which may just be the simple sensationalism of a blogger. The one sentence about good drivers is a minimal inclusion considering the overall mileage driven during every school day in this mountainous county. I suspect the percentage of miles driven safely by bus drivers is greater than the drivers you witnessed on main street.

    In general I support the bus drivers as doing a good job overall.

    The main point of this comment is to support the good bus drivers. It may be encouraging to also let them know that their good driving is truly appreciated too.

    Keep the muse in Blue Ridge Muse…

    Jason Rutledge

  5. I would like to say one thing. You can’t judge all bus drivers by some who do not follow the rules. By telling my story most people will know who I am, but that doesn’t really matter. I personally ride one of the school buses with my autistic son. I know that I can completely trust the bus driver. She always follows the law and safety rules and drives extremely responsibly and always has the safety of her children in mind. I cannot speak for all of the bus drivers because I am not around them. If someone sees something like that then call the bus garage and tell their boss. Isn’t that how it works. Let him take care of it. Only if situations are reported can they be resolved. I might also like to add that I have witnessed many !!!! drivers in their vehicles dangerously passing buses to the point that the bus had to come to a stop so the passing car would not have a head on collision with oncoming traffic. I have seen them follow a bus way to close because the bus “was” going the speed limit and the car wanted to speed. I have seen people pulling into the school passing buses unloading children. This is a 2 way street here. Not only do bus drivers need to keep the safety of the children in mind but so does the driving public. Again you can’t judge all people because of some.

  6. If you think that driving a bus is so easy then why don’t you apply for a job and show what a safe driver is… Oh wait you can’t because you are guilty of speeding yourself not only has it been brought to the bloggers attention earlier in replies to your post but others have seen you as well including myself. Did you know the speed limit on back street is 25MPH and you seem to not have a problem to exceed that and it’s posted. Furthermore if you are so concerned with the speed why didn’t you attend police academy and become an officer.

    You must think it is oh so easy to drive a bus, you get one and have it loaded and try pulling out from a complete stop on a knoll/hill (bet you can’t). It’s not a pie job like you think it is and it seems like you have to much time on your hands. If you have nothing better to do then sit around town and watch people go by then you need to find a career. I know for fact that Bus Driving isn’t easy due to me being a child of a bus driver. Until you have tried and completed the task that do on a daily basis you have NO right to say anything.

    On the Schoolboards behalf they don’t have to respond due to them knowing the facts, and if it was such a big problem in the county don’t you think something would have already been done, or are you calling the Floyd County Sheriff’s Office lazy and trying to make it out like they don’t do their jobs. For you and all the others that have a problem… Go get your CDL or become an officer and then you try taking care of the problem.

  7. Before retiring to Floyd County, I drove school buses for three Virginia school systems for more than 20 years and I can tell you from experience that the problems outlined by Mr. Thompson do exist and that they would not be allowed to continue by most school systems. I have witnessed school buses running stop signs, speeding on county roads and operated in an unsafe manner. I and others have filed complaints with the Floyd County school system and nothing was done.

    The person who calls themselves “a child of a bus driver” is obviously not proud enough of their school bus driving parent to identify them or themselves. I wonder why?

    The few here who defend Floyd County school bus drivers do not deny that the infractions cited by Mr. Thompson exist. They only chide him for driving above the speed limit to document speeding by buses. They claim there is no problem because if there were the school board would have done something about it. Anyone who has dealt with the school board of Floyd County knows inaction is their way of dealing with any serious situation.

    I have a CDL (Commercial Drivers License). I drove commercial trucks as well as school buses. Compared to driving an 18-wheeler, operating a school bus is a piece of cake. It is not rocket science and requires only basic skill levels compared to other commerical vehicle operations.

    Yet driving a school bus is a tremendous responsibility. The average school bus carries 57 students. The safety of those children is the primary responsibility of the driver and the school system that employs that driver. If the driver chooses to ignore a stop sign or speed though town he or she puts the children on the bus at risk and risk should always be avoided when one operates a vehicle or transports passengers.

    It appears to me that the citizens of Floyd County would rather sit back and wait for a child to be injured or killed before demanding action. Before taking such a passive attitude to the safety of children, I suggest parents visit the web site of National Coalition for School Bus Safety at http://www.ncsbs.org/index.html and visit the section that details crash reports.

    Examine the reports from other communities where parents thought their bus drivers were safe. Count up the number of children killed or injured in school bus accidents. Then take a hard look at the official cause of the crashes. Most of them are “driver error” by school bus drivers.

  8. It is sad that some here choose to attempt to rationalize the actions of some bus drivers who drive recklessly. They want us to ignore the problem and talk only about the majority of drivers who are safe.

    The real issue here is not the vast majority of drivers who do their jobs and do it safely but the reckless few who break the law and put our school children at risk.

    A major part of that issue is a school administration that would rather sweep everything under the rug or look the other way rather than publicly deal with a matter that has been a point of discussion among parents for a long time.

    Mr. Rutledge says every school bus driver was given a hard copy of Mr. Thompson’s article. Did this presentation come with a warning to obey the law or simply a suggestion that they avoid getting caught? Mr. Rutledge wants us to overlook the bad drivers because it is hard to get school bus drivers and the job does not pay that well. Rather than make excuses for the bad drivers, should we not concentrate on how to rid the system of the dangerous ones and find good ones to fill the jobs? If the county cannot find such drivers then maybe Floyd should do what other school systems have done: Outsource the school bus transportation system to a private firm that can find qualified, safe drivers.

    Mr. Thompson did not create the situation that allows unsafe drivers to transport our children. That problem has existed for years. We know parents who drive their children to school because they don’t trust the school bus drivers. There have been many complaints about the drivers but Dr. Arbogast chooses to bury such complaints and keep them from the public view. It is not the first coverup he has overseen and I am sure it will not be the last.

    It is absurd to say we don’t have a problem because we have not yet had a tragic accident involving a school bus. As long as the system employs any driver that is unsafe or not competent in his or her job, the potential for tragedy exists.

  9. Since it is such as big issue my name is Michele Neal and my mother has been driving a bus for 24 going on 25 years. It seems like people are loving the fact to thrive on the problems with Floyd County Schools, why don’t you go to Montgomery County and watch them my husband is an employee there and we discussed that it is worse there than it is here. Also, if the school board thought that the drivers here were such a threat to your childrens safety they wouldn’t be driving and I know that for a fact. Also I am the furthest thing from a coward… If you don’t like what you see around Floyd and you have a CDL then go get a job at the Bus Garage and you do the RIGHT thing. I don’t care how long anyone has previously driven a bus all locations are different and if you beg to differ than so be it. Become a bigger person and if it is such a problem YOU step up to the plate and you take care of the problem. Blogging… that’s not the way to do so, setting an example that is a start. Me being the daughter of a bus driver I love and she has driven the bus the entire time without having an accident. I’m proud of what my mother has done along with her co-workers and for those of you whom don’t know there has not been a bus accident in several years and the wreck that was caused was due to an oil spill infront of Check Elementary School.

  10. …for having the courage in your beliefs to stand behind them with you name.

    For the record, I have driven a school bus. I was a school bus driver in Missouri and Illinois for a number of years. When I drove a bus, I obeyed the law. I stopped at stop signs, at railroad crossings and at traffic lights. I kept the bus within the posted speed limits at all times. I’m proud to say that I never had an accident as a driver. I did see other bus drivers break the laws but, thankfully, they didn’t have an accident.

    I also drove large trucks while growing up on a farm in Floyd County so I know how difficult some of these roads can be.

    Your mother probably is a very good driver and I doubt she was one of the ones I observed running the stop sign at Barberry or speeding on U.S. 221. I know who the driver was on Sandy Flats Road and it wasn’t your mother.

    But we do have drivers who speed, run stop signs and operate their buses in an unsafe manner. I’m not the only one who has observed it or reported it.  And the problem is not limited to Floyd County.  Recently, I watched a Pulaski County school driver carrying an athletic team run the stop light in Floyd. I reported that driver to Pulaski County school authorities. They interviewed students on the bus and suspended the driver.

    Based on some of the behavior I have observed, I believe we are very lucky that there has not been an accident where children were hurt. If I have to slam on my brakes to avoid hitting a school bus that runs the stop sign at Barberry, then that bus driver is driving in a dangerous manner (and, yes, I was driving at 25 mph at the time).

    The public would be better served if the school board would say what actions, if any, are being taken to ensure that school buses are driven in a safe manner. Silence only feeds speculation that they have something to hide and it would not be the first time that the administration of Floyd County’s school system had hidden facts from the public.

    The purpose of Blue Ridge Muse is to raise issues for discussion and then foster that discussion. I have no beef with the school board or its drivers. I simply reported what I saw and others who have posted here with their names have reported similar instances.

    Any community is better served when issues are brought into the open and discussed freely.

    You stated in your first post that I was speeding on back streets in Floyd? What back streets? When? Who saw it and how was my speed determined? I’m a high profile target for any cop in Floyd County and especially the Blue Ridge Parkway and it would be foolish for me to speed anywhere. I’m a driver with a clean record and +5 points on my license.

    If you are basing your accusation on personal observation I would like to know when this happened or if you are simply passing on what you have been told you were told something that was not true.

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