A couple of months ago, there was a knock on our front door.
Our neighbor across the street wanted to talk to me about the school bus that picks up his son, who is confined to a wheelchair. I have seen his son plenty of times, and while I'm not sure of his age or how severe his disabilities are (they look to be pretty serious), he always has a grin for you when you say hello. T is mesmerized by his wheelchair, which is seriously cool.
Anyway, the gist of the conversation was about the fact that people are passing the bus that picks up his son, even while his son is being loaded. Our neighbor came over to let me know that morning I had passed the bus during the loading process. I had to think for a second before I realized that I had, indeed, seen the bus sitting there when I left the house that morning.
I didn't do it purposefully or with any sort of intent (Hey! There's a school bus sitting there - I'm going to pass it for FUN!! Muahhahaaa!) The bus parks there for between 7-15 minutes in the morning. The bus driver doesn't have the flashing red lights on or the stop sign or arm extended the entire time. Sometimes not at all. I'm so used to seeing the bus there waiting, in fact, that I had (at that point) stopped thinking about it as a school bus and saw it mostly as another parked vehicle in front of their house. There is no excuse for that. None.
I was so mortified when I realized that I had done that, that I burst into tears. I was plenty upset that I drove past the bus, but even more so that I was so absorbed in getting the kids out the door and to school that I took that kind of risk - and it didn't even register until our neighbor came over. That kind of carelessness is what lays a slippery foundation for a tragedy that can't be undone.
I'll skip the deets about part where he passes on thinly veiled threats about turning me in and having us kicked out of housing and how karma is a bitch and so forth. Because, honestly, I totally understand his point of view.
But something besides my carelessness was really nagging at me about this and I eventually realized that I'm pretty sure that there were no warning or stop lights flashing when I left that morning. I remembered seeing someone in the driveway, but the nurse aid shift change is around 7:30 or 8:00 am, and his mom usually walks out with him to the bus. I don't remember seeing several people, I just remember seeing a person.
And here is my only issue with this situation: when is it safe to drive past a bus that carries special needs students?
Here are the facts based on my observations of the bus driver's habits:
The driver doesn't use the warning and stop lights appropriately unless she knows someone is watching. How do I know this? Because I watched the bus for several weeks. Sometimes no lights are used at all, and I have video proof.
The bus is in front of the neighbors' house for anywhere between 7-15 minutes. Most buses can stop and load or unload passengers in under 2 minutes. (Yes, I timed T's bus for a while to compare and our stop is always under 45 seconds.)
Since the student across the street boards by ramp and the ramp is in the middle of the bus on the side I can't see, it's difficult to tell at a glance what part of the process he's in.
So for me, the obvious answer is to not drive past the bus or leave my driveway (since I can't back out of my driveway without overlapping where the bus is - and would that be considered passing since my vehicle is technically moving?) until the bus isn't there anymore.
Since then, I have been pretty lucky and we've needed to leave either before the bus got there or after it came and left.
This morning, however, we got in the car, opened the garage door.......and there was the bus across the street. Five minutes early.
So I back out into the driveway and am watching in my rear view mirror. When we pulled out, no lights were flashing, as soon as we were in the driveway, the yellow lights got turned on so I stayed put -- which I would have anyway after my discussion with my neighbor -- and then the red lights.
Right around this time, a black SUV comes up the street. It had to be pretty obvious that we were waiting on the bus to leave since a) at that point the red lights, stop sign, and arm were all happening b) the kids and I are sitting in a running vehicle, doing our best Linda Blair attempts to see behind us to what the bus was doing, and c) our neighbor was being pushed down the driveway to the bus in his wheelchair.
This black SUV slows down allllmost to a stop, and then passes the bus slowly.
Are you KIDDING me?!?!?!?!?!?!??!!?!?!!?
I admit, I'm still really upset whenever I think about the conversation with our neighbor about my passing the bus, no matter how sure I am that I didn't pass a bus with the stop lights and equipment going. And my being upset is allll about my being in the wrong. It's my responsibility as a mom, driver, and human being to pay attention to just such things. Period.
So when I saw that SUV pass the bus today, my jaw dropped. What in the hell could be so important that you risk the life of a kid? Not to mention that passing a stopped school bus carries the highest points for a DMV violation.
During the conversation with my neighbor, he mentioned there was a black SUV that routinely passed the stopped bus, which is why they were trying to get driver and vehicle info for any vehicle that passed it. At the time I wondered if maybe the SUV passed the bus when the lights and arms weren't being used. But after this morning, it's pretty obvious that it makes no difference to the driver. If she was running late, she had enough time to see the stopped bus, turn around in any of the empty driveways before getting to the bus, and go the other way because you can get out of our development going either direction.
I just can't stop thinking about it. No wonder he was so ticked off when he came to talk to me. I have to admit I didn't really think that there would be anyone who knowingly, willingly, and intentionally passed a stopped, loading school bus but apparently there is.