ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – School bus drivers say other motorists are putting school children at risk.
“I think somebody’s going to end up getting hurt,” said parent Pauline Benavidez, whose young child could ride the bus, but doesn’t. “The bus makes me so nervous, usually I just pick her up.”
Benavidez is nervous, in part, about other drivers.
KRQE News 13 rode with two different Rio Rancho Public Schools bus drivers for a six days and witnessed the problem first-hand. Drivers were breaking the law.
The law states that when a school bus has its red lights flashing and the stop arm out, drivers must be 10 feet or more from the bus.
Driver Dan Hilborn said he sees drivers ignoring the law at least once a week, some even driving up on the curb to get around the stopped bus.
Two weeks ago, Hilborn said he saw four violators. One of them was caught on a KRQE News 13 camera. Fifteen children got off Hilborn’s bus after school in the afternoon. Several of them crossed the street. However, before the flashing lights were turned off and the stop arm put away, an elderly-looking woman drove the opposite way, passing the children and the bus.
“Kids aren’t even done crossing the road yet,” Hilborn said.
Hilborn said the driver may not have seen the children who could have darted into the road unexpectedly.
“I still had a kid behind the bus crossing the road when she left,” Hilborn said.
School officials worry one impatient driver may hurt or kill a child.
“Many years ago when I was a police officer in Rio Rancho, we had an occasion where an elderly woman passed on the right side of the school bus. She was driving into the sun and ended up injuring seven kids,” said John Francis, assistant director of the Department of Student Transportation for Rio Rancho Public Schools.
During KRQE News 13’s ride-along, three other drivers tried to outrun the stop arm. The bus lights came on and the drivers hit the gas peddle to pass the bus coming the other way. That’s against the law, because the red flashing lights were already on.
“They fly by here, and there’s no need for this. Ya know what I mean?” said John Salazar, a grandparent who picked up his grandchildren from a bus stop and witnessed one of the law-breakers.
Police rarely ticket drivers for these violations. The law says an officer has to witness the crime.
“We’ve had police officers at times follow buses when we’ve had incidents in areas that were well known for stop sign runners,” Francis said.
The fines for the violation depend on whether the officer cites under the state code or the city code.
Police may not be watching, but someone is. Hilborn always has his eye peeled watching for other drivers. He even recognizes many of the frequent flyers.
“One that mostly does it there is a green pickup truck in the mornings,” he said, referencing a particular bus stop.