N

ot that our area roads are exactly wide-open spaces as is, but what little elbow room there is available is about to get quite a bit tighter.

The annual influx of students to Western Carolina University is underway. A growing Southwestern Community College has geared back up. And Jackson County Public Schools are kicking off the 2019-20 year.

There’s a lot of new in the air.

With all that new it’s time to repeat an old message: Be careful out there.

Extra careful, as there’s an extra shot of drivers on the roads yet to become familiar with the area, an extra shot of kids experiencing riding the bus for the first time. Keep your head on a swivel in the coming days.

And pay particular attention to school buses. North Carolinians are getting better at obeying the laws regarding buses, but the track record is still poor, with estimates of around 3,000 vehicles a day passing stopped buses on state roads.

A new school bus camera law was enacted in 2017 laying out civil penalties taken from school bus camera footage of drivers illegally passing stopped buses.

Senate Bill 55 allows counties to levy charges of $400 for a first offense of passing a stopped school bus; $750 for the second; and $1,000 for the third offense.

Money collected will go to fund school bus safety equipment.

For the record: If you’re on a two-lane road and come to a stopped school bus, you have to stop regardless of which direction you’re traveling.

If you’re on a four-lane road you have to stop behind a stopped school bus.

On four-lane roads you only have to stop in the opposite direction if there’s no median or turn lane.

It’s a bit complicated, so here’s the easy version: If you see a school bus, slow down. It means there are kids around.

They’re likely inattentive as they soak in the excitement of new experiences, new friends and a new year.

Make sure that year gets off to a good start.

Pay attention.