A nine-year-old boy was struck and killed in Baldwyn, Mississippi recently. Dalen Thomas was crossing the street to board a bus for Baldwyn Elementary School, when a truck hit him. After being airlifted to Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, he later died. The driver, Hunter Newman, was charged with aggravated assault.
Five bus stop accidents in one week
The same week, four other young children were killed and six hospitalized, while waiting on or walking to board school buses. The other accidents occurred in Indiana, Pennsylvania and Florida.
Petition requests tougher federal penalties
In response, a petition was posted on the White House website, and it asks the federal government to enact tougher punishments for drivers that illegally cross school bus lights. The petition requests penalties like jail time, license suspension or increased fines.
Distracted driving is a factor
Law enforcement officers believe distracted driving is a factor in many of these accidents. Mississippi Highway Patrol Captain John Poulos stated distracted driving is a huge problem in Mississippi. According to 2016 numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,450 were killed in distracted driving crashes in the U.S., while nearly 400,000 were injured in these accidents.
Poulos also stated distraction is particularly dangerous when motorists pass stopped school buses. That is why the state passed “Nathan’s Law” in 2011. The law increased fines and sentencing for drivers convicted of illegally passing school buses.
Though the state increased penalties, clearly a problem still exists. The petition drafters believe state laws are not effective, and penalties are not severe enough for drivers that illegally pass school buses. The petition has over 12,000 signatures, but needs to reach 100,000 signatures by November 30 to require a response by the White House.