Even though it’s smaller than public school buses, the Houston Head Start bus carries equally important cargo.
But according to Houston Police Department Chief Jim McNiell and Houston Head Start director Susie Lay, some drivers for some reason elect not to give the smaller vehicle due consideration when they’re in its vicinity and “blow by” it even when its stop arm is extended and lights are flashing.
“The Houston Police Department would like to remind drivers that all laws that apply to school bus emergency lighting apply to the Head Start bus,” McNiell said. “So regardless of whether it’s a big bus or the Head Start bus, if you see a bus with its lights flashing and stop arm extended, you need to come to a complete stop on a two lane road – no matter which side of the road you’re traveling on – and wait until the lights and arm are deactivated before continuing your travel.”
McNiell and Lay both said the problem most repeatedly arises when the Head Start bus is loading or unloading daycare kids outside the Optimist Club community building on First Street.
“That’s the No. 1 spot where people seem to run our bus arm,” Lay said. “We’ve got the stop sign out and flashers going and people just act like the bus isn’t even there.”
“Regardless if kids are discharging on the Optimist Club side of the road, people going southbound at that point also have to stop,” McNiell said. “There are no ifs, ands or buts about it.”
Bus drivers, including those piloting the Head Start vehicle, have the authority to provide license plate numbers of blow-by vehicles to the Missouri State Highway Patrol. Three women share duty of driving the Houston Head Start bus: Dorothy King, Tiffany Miller and Emily Smith.
All three said they frequently deal with the issue, and each has submitted violators’ information to the Patrol.
“It’s getting scary,” Smith said. “It’s happening almost every day.”
“We know for a fact (the patrol) is issuing tickets,” Lay said, “because Emily got her hind end chewed out by a guy who got a ticket that way. We’ve heard comments like, ‘that’s just a little bus,’ or ‘that’s the special bus.’
“It doesn’t matter; the laws apply to all buses.”
The driver trio said blow-by violators have in the past included school teachers, post office workers and even law enforcement officers.
“And because it’s a small town, you usually know who they are,” Lay said. “It’s a bit strange.”
Lay pointed out that kids on the Head Start bus wear seat belts, so it takes slightly longer to get them in and out of the vehicle than beltless public buses. In addition to the usual wording indicating vehicles in its vicinity must stop, the back of the bus bears a sticker regarding the belting.
Two staff members are on board the Head Start bus at all times – the driver and a “monitor.” One of the monitor’s duties is to make sure children are strapped in safely, and to help them quickly and efficiently get in and out of their seat belts.
“I know the public buses don’t do that, so we take a little more time,” Lay said. “But it’s not that much more, and we know people are waiting, so we try to be as speedy as we can.”
The Houston Head Start bus follows morning and afternoon routes that currently are entirely within the city limits. McNiell said city police officers are increasing their focus on the blow-by situation.
“As a department, we’re going to aggressively watch for drivers who are violating,” he said. “These buses carry precious cargo – they’re someone’s kids. One of the worst things that could happen in this community is having one of these young children run over by an inattentive driver who is in too big of a hurry and isn’t obeying the laws regarding school buses.”
McNiell said the issue isn’t limited to the Head Start bus and that drivers sometimes violate laws when the bigger public buses are loading or unloading.
“There are measures the public can take to avoid something tragic happening in our community, and you can’t be too careful with this kind of thing,” he said. “Kids are kids, and you never really know when they’re going to dart out in the wrong direction. All it takes is for someone to not be aware enough, then before you know it, we get called to the scene of a terrible accident and we’re dealing with a driver who was inattentive and ends up facing criminal charges and civil liability.
“When those lights are displayed, a bus basically becomes an emergency vehicle and people need to act accordingly. If everyone will just do their job, then I won’t have to do mine.”
When those lights are displayed, a bus basically becomes an emergency vehicle and people need to act accordingly. If everyone will just do their job, then I won’t have to do mine.”