With the new school year beginning today, Faulkner County Sheriff Tim Ryals is reminding residents to be alert and cautious during student pick-up and drop-off periods.

“During this busy time, please be extra cautious in traffic,” he said. “Be mindful of our school traffic zones, especially during the morning hours and early afternoons. Keep an extra lookout for potential hazards around our schools and in neighborhoods where children play. Slow down and increase your stopping distances.”

Motorists should drive through residential areas with extra care, FCSO spokesman Erinn Stone said.

“It is extremely important for motorists to remember school buses will be out and picking up and dropping kids off,” she told the Log Cabin Democrat. “Children will be walking through the neighborhoods more to get to their stops. Drop the distractions and pay attention to the road and the children at the stops. Do not try to go around a school bus with its lights on and stop sign out, it is done for everyone’s safety.”

Arkansas law mandates motorists to stop before reaching a school bus that is picking up or dropping off children.

“If the lights are on, stop,” Arkansas State Police trooper Bob Love said.

The law extends to both two-lane and four-lane highways in all directions, even those with a median, turning lane. Individuals caught passing a stopped school bus could be ordered to pay a fine up to $2,500 or sentenced to serve up to 90 days in the county jail.

Trooper Trevor Stephenson said authorities take “no excuses” and give “no tolerance” to those in violation of the stopped-school-bus law.

When it comes down to it, the law is imposed to keep children safe, Sgt. Zach Owens said.

“Everyday, school buses transport thousands of children across Arkansas’ highways. Their safety is our No. 1 concern,” he said. “Don’t be the reason a child doesn’t make it home.”

Realizing the transition can be hectic, Sheriff Ryals said he wanted to remind residents that school buses will be out on Faulkner County roadways beginning Tuesday morning. Learning the bus routes that pass through one’s neighborhood and where bus stops along commutes are located is important to maintaining the community’s safety, he said.

“Be aware of school bus routes in your neighborhood and throughout your daily travel,” Ryals said. “Leave plenty of time and space for buses. With school traffic, anticipate delays in your travel and leave early so you’re not in a rush. And, when approaching a school zone or school bus on the road, be prepared to stop for bus and pedestrian traffic.”

Students who see anything they deem suspicious while out waiting for the bus to pick them up in the mornings are encouraged to report the potential problem to either the police or a school representative, Stone said.

“We always want the public to know, if you see something, say something,” she said. “We want the citizens of Faulkner County to feel safe. If it is a child [who see's something], [they should] tell an adult immediately whether it is a parent, school bus driver, school resource officer, etc.”

Working together as a community will make a difference in the schools, Ryals said.

“I want to thank all of you who help make our education system an integral, positive force in our community,” Ryals said. “Our children are counting on us — lets work together to make ‘back to school’ a rewarding, fun and safe time for all Faulkner County residents.”

Staff writer Marisa Hicks can be reached at mhicks@thecabin.net.