HARRIS COUNTY, Ga. (WRBL)— Bus drivers in Harris County have returned to their routes for the new school year. Members of Harris County law enforcement and the school district are reminding the community about the rules of the road for all motorists traveling with busses.  

Bus Safety

“When kids get on and off the bus, that period of time, when they’re traveling or walking up the stairs of the bus or down the stairs, is the most vulnerable time for their safety,” Hamilton Police Chief Eric Weiss told WRBL.

Officials reminding drivers to stop, slow down, and pay attention.

“There are hundreds and hundreds of accidents across this nation every year where children’s lives are lost due to people passing busses on a red light stop,” Harris County Assistant Superintendent of Business Services and Technology Dr. Justin Finney said. “I cannot emphasize that enough. You are putting children’s lives at risk when you don’t pay attention and you pass a bus with the red lights on.”

In every state, it is illegal for motorists to pass school buses when the stop-arm is out, and the red lights are blinking.

“Georgia takes passing a school bus unlawfully very seriously on the point schedule on your driver’s license,” Chief Weiss said. “If you’re convicted of passing a school bus, that’s six points on your driver’s license, that is equivalent to the same violation of driving 35 miles an hour over the speed limit.”

15 points in a two-year period on a driver’s license can result in suspension.

Dr. Finney reminds students riding a school bus is a privilege and all passengers must adhere to the bus conduct expectations.

“First and foremost, students need to know how to safely load and unload the busses and they need to understand the expectations of their conduct on the busses. We have Georgia Department of Education safety links on our website. So, I want everybody to go check those out on the district website,” Dr. Finney said. “There’s also a student code of conduct on the website, and that is the assurance that parents have read and covered that with their students so that they understand the conduct expectations on the bus and what the consequences will be because an orderly bus is a safe bus.”

Parents are asked to supervise their children at all bus stops and arrive early.

“Parents, I just would like to emphasize, get an early start on the first days of school until your transportation routine smooths out. Please be at your bus stop 10 minutes prior to the start time. It is very dangerous to pull up to a bus stop late and try to have a child run up to a bus,” Dr. Finney said. “I also like to emphasize to parents, please, please, please stay with and supervise your children at the bus stop for their safety.”

To all community members, it is advised to add extra commute time while everyone is adjusting to their new routines.

“Be patient, add in some extra time for your morning routines the first weeks of school and make sure that you’re stopping on red,” Dr. Finney advised.

School Zones in Hamilton, Ga.

The City of Hamilton is home to three of the seven Harris County Schools, and one STEAM Center. In 2021, Hamilton City Council voted to implement Automated Traffic Enforcement Safety Devices (ATESD). These devices, monitored by the Hamilton Police Department, capture images of vehicles going 11 miles per hour over the speed limit during school hours in all the school zones in Hamilton.

“We have seen over a 50% reduction in issue violations,” Chief Weiss said. “If a violation occurs, it is sent to me through our portal, and I will actually physically review and either issue or dismiss any violation.” In 2021 about 3,200 violations were issued, so far in 2023 there have only been 1,085.

Once a violation is approved by Chief Weiss, a mail notice is sent to the registered owner of the vehicle who then has 30 days to respond by either paying the violation or scheduling a court hearing.

Chief Weiss says these speed detection devices helps a small department like the Hamilton Police Department keep up with the increase of population that comes with the school year.

“In Hamilton, we have a nighttime population of about 1,700, we have a very small city. During the day when schools are in, we have over four 4,500 people here in the city, it gets very congested,” Chief Weiss said. “We have seen a reduction in repeat violators and that is with limited staffing and law enforcement to be able to really enforce the laws of the road. Having utilized new technology has been a great asset to us.”

The speed detection devices turned back on Tuesday, August 8th and will remain in operation during active school zone times. Chief Weiss says no civil violations are issued outside of active school zone times.

More information on the ATESD’s can be found below.