Watch for signals

Beaufort Middle School bus drivers, from left, Russell Bauer, Heidi Merkley and Charity Godette demonstrate hand signals now used to let students know it’s safe to cross the street. (Cheryl Burke photo)

BEAUFORT — Thumbs up. Palm up. Point left or right.

Motorists and parents are reminded that students must wait for a school bus driver to give those hand signals before they can cross roadways, according to a state law that took affect Jan. 1.

The State Board of Education approved the school bus safety policy in July 2015 after five North Carolina students were hurt by motorists passing stopped buses last school year.

While the law didn’t take effect until the first of the year, Carteret County schools implemented the policy in August with the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, according to Lloyd Willis, director of transportation for the county school system. The school system wanted to issue a reminder.

“We did our training with bus drivers at the beginning of the year, and the bus drivers provided training to the students when they reported back to classes,” he said Wednesday.

Mr. Willis added that as much as possible he organizes bus routes so students don’t have to cross roads, but in some instances it’s nearly impossible.

He said three areas where students cross roads is Highway 101 in and outside of Beaufort city limits, Highway 70 between Beaufort and East Carteret High School and Merrimon Road in North River.

Beaufort Middle School bus driver Heidi Merkley drives the Highway 101 route. She said Thursday she provided training to her students at the beginning of the school year during physical education classes.

“We always have a bus safety class during PE classes, so we taught the kids the bus rules, including the hand signals,” she said.

Here’s how they work. In the mornings, once drivers come to a complete stop and activate the red lights and stop arm to pick up children, if students must cross the road, drivers hold up their left palm to signal students to wait.

When safe, the driver gives the “thumbs up,” signaling it’s safe to cross. They then point in the direction students are to walk to cross the street. They also encourage students to check the traffic before crossing.

In the afternoons, when a driver comes to a complete stop and activates the red lights to let kids out, they remind students to look both ways before crossing and to watch for the hand signals if they must cross the road.

Once they’re out, the driver holds up the right palm for students to wait. When it’s safe, they give the “thumbs up” and signal in the direction students must cross.

Ms. Merkley, who has driven a school bus for more than 20 years, said she likes the hand signals.

“I think it’s fabulous. I’m one of the ones constantly worried and looking in my mirrors and watching traffic. Whatever we can do for the safety of the students, if it’s a hand signal, we need to do it.”

Emily Graham of Beaufort, who waits each school day for her grandchildren at a bus stop along Highway 101, said she also likes the hand signals.

“Anything that adds to the safety of our children, I’m all for it,” she said.

Her granddaughter, Brooke Graham, a sixth-grader at Beaufort Middle, crosses Highway 101 twice a day. She agreed the signals are a good idea.

“If we’re not paying attention something could happen. But with the hand signals, we know if it’s safe or not to cross the street,” Brooke said.

Her friend Mackenzie McArthur, a BMS sixth-grader who gets on and off at the same stop, agreed. She added that she has a little brother who attends Beaufort Elementary who also must cross the highway.

“I actually think it’s safer for us to cross the road because of the hand signals,” she said.

For more information about the law or school bus safety, go to: www.ncbussafety.org.

Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.

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