Concerns Voiced on Social Media

Many busy roads in Jefferson sport signs urging people to slow down and drive like their kids live there, or neon green slow-down signs with a childlike figure clutching a reflective orange flag. The warnings signify a growing concern over speeding drivers whose lack of regard for safety puts children at risk – particularly drivers who fail to stop at a safe (and legal) distance from a school bus or completely disregard its flashing lights.

The recurring issue has prompted Jefferson residents to vent and voice concerns on Facebook groups such as Jefferson Township Moms and Dads and Jefferson Parent Community. In early December, just a day apart, two different parents expressed their grievances regarding Espanong Road and Milton Road.

Drivers speed past yellow flashing lights on Espanong Road. (Photo: Billie Burke)

The posts drew angry and frustrated responses from others who agree that the problem is growing. The December 4 Facebook post accumulated more than 60 comments from those who shared similar experiences, offered advice, and urged the parent to notify the police department. One group member tagged the chief of police. Oak Ridge resident Susan Benson-Hankinson commented in the Jefferson Township Moms and Dads thread that she believes a meeting with police is necessary to resolve the town-wide “epidemic.”

The uptick in incidents indicates a need for safety information in addition to Facebook catharsis. Parents and neighbors have expressed interest in becoming familiar with laws, knowing how to file complaints, and reaching out to the correct town officials.

Cameras on School Buses

Pamela Agnes, assistant transportation supervisor for Jefferson schools, told The Jefferson Chronicle that new high-resolution cameras have recently been installed on every school bus in the district. Each bus is equipped with five cameras – two outside and three inside. The main concern of bus drivers is the children’s safety, said Agnes. They are vigilant in alerting kids if a car appears not to be stopping. When a vehicle indeed fails to stop, drivers document the incident by marking the video where the incident occurred and filling out a police statement.

Traffic safety officer Rodger Davis works with Vanessa Sanchez, school transportation supervisor, to obtain information on 50-100 incidents annually. Violators are a mix of residents and out-of-towners. Davis told The Chronicle that the film can be clear enough to see drivers sipping coffee. In addition, police check still shots of the car’s license plate, the driver, and the vehicle in the act of passing while the bus’s red lights are on. A citation is issued to the registered owner; if that person was not behind the wheel, the ticket is reissued to the actual driver. A first offense carries a penalty of five points and possibly other fines.

Most violations occur on Route 15, said Davis. While no fatalities have yet resulted from drivers passing stopped buses, there have been close calls. In one case, a hurried driver pulled onto the shoulder of the highway and passed the line of stopped cars, nearly hitting a student. In another incident, a driver had no idea that he had passed a stopped bus due to distraction. “Pay attention to your surroundings,” cautioned Davis.

All drivers are required to be familiar with the law. When approaching a school bus with flashing red lights – from either direction – drivers must stop at least 25 feet away. A car on the opposite side of a road with a median must slow down to 10 miles per hour.

Courtesy graphic

Contact Information

Both the transportation and police departments advise that observers report violations to the police rather than attempting to communicate with, or to follow, the driver of an offending vehicle. Even without a license plate number, a vehicle description is helpful (especially if the same vehicle is reported on multiple occasions) so that an officer can be positioned to witness a future violation and follow up.

Police headquarters: 973-697-1300. Website: Office: municipal building (1033 Weldon Road).

Transportation supervisor, Vanessa Sanchez: 973-663-5785 or Website: Office: Board of Education building (31 Route 181).

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