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WEST WHITELAND — As part of National Bus Safety Week, the West Whiteland Police Department were making sure that the community obeyed the laws of the road in regards to school buses — something the community seems to have forgotten about.
In a combined effort with the West Chester Area School District, school transportation providers, pupil transportation associations and PennDOT, Operation Safe Stop celebrated its 19th year by talking with students and making sure people stopped when the bus did on Wednesday.
“We talked about school bus safety,” said Jeffrey McCloskey, detective with West Whiteland. “We talked about how they should sit on the bus, the dangers of them standing up and acting appropriately on the bus. A couple of the kids asked (questions) and we talked about typical cop stuff, like what’s on my belt.”
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Joining McCloskey on the bus was Lori Aguilera, highway safety project coordinator at the Chester County District Attorney’s office and the one who put together Operation Safe Stop for Wednesday.
“It’s just fun and the kids love it,” she said. “We got on the bus this morning and I talked to the kids about what you’re supposed to do at the bus stop as far as safety — the 10-foot rule and no running — and what to do when they’re on the bus — don’t distract the driver and sit in your seat the right way. We told them why the police cars were following the buses and to let them know we’re trying to stop the vehicles from going around the bus which could potentially hit them. They were all excited and waved to the officer.”
In a time when a lot of the public is wary of police officers, Operation Safe Stop also served as a way for students to become comfortable with law enforcement.
“This is the first time they’ve done this here (in West Whiteland) in a long time,” Aguilera said. “I try to do a different department every year to get them involved and it promotes positive rapport with the police. It was nice to have the officer on the bus, being friendly, so they get this idea that they are here to protect us and keep us safe. They really liked it.”
Once the students departed the bus at Exton Elementary School, they received gifts in honor of Operation Safe Stop, which included a pencil, an eraser and safety information.
While McCloskey enjoyed the company of the students on the bus ride, a police car followed the bus to keep an eye on the other drives on the road.
In the afternoon, McCloskey and other officers waited at the same bus stop at Route 100 and Rockland Drive to spot any violations.
“We were looking for passing of the school bus, which is illegal in Pennsylvania,” McCloskey said. “When the yellow lights are on, you’re supposed to slow down and use caution, just like a regular traffic light. When the red lights come on, you have to fully stop. Three cars were cited this afternoon and two cars were cited this morning, so we have five total today just in this area of Route 100 and Rockland Drive.”
Motorists who are convicted of illegally passing a stopped school bus can face a $250 fine, five points on their driving record and a 60-day suspension of their license.
Aguilera was stunned when she watched, firsthand, people driving past the bus regardless of the flashing stop sign.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “Everybody knows you stop. The arm goes out and the lights come on, but they literally went around the bus and just kept going. My mouth dropped. They’ve had about 39 violations in two months – just two months. This 100 corridor is horrible so we figured to just come here.”
Even McCloskey continues to be amazed at the amount of people who disregard the law when it comes to school bus safety, but the goal of a day such as today is to hopefully stop a future tragic accident from happening.
“I don’t understand, especially here on 100 where it’s a three-lane highway and the speed limit is 45 miles per hour,” McCloskey said. “They turn the yellow lights on in advance. It gives an indication that they’re supposed to be prepared to stop. When the red lights come on, they literally move from lane to lane to lane to get around the school bus because everyone is in a rush. One of those times, that rush is going to cause an accident and that’s what we’re out here to prevent.”