What’s the deal with the new school bus billboards across Kentucky?

This week, 51 billboards started going up across the state that warn drivers of the danger of passing a stopped school bus. The billboards feature an extended stop sign arm on the side of a school bus with the words, “It's not JUST a stop sign, it’s a child's life.”

“It is paramount that our children arrive at school and back home safely each day,” Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt said in a news release. “While stopping for a school bus might be a minor inconvenience for drivers, the penalty for passing a stopped school bus can be severe. Drivers can receive a fine, but for a child, it could be a matter of life or death."

The billboard reminders are going up in Lexington, Mount Sterling, Morehead, London, Georgetown, Frankfort, Versailles, Harrodsburg, Hazard, Pikeville, Louisville and some cities in Western and Northern Kentucky. They will be up for about a month.

Loading and unloading the school bus is the most common time for accidents to occur. Last school year, a vehicle passing a school bus on the right side hit three children waiting at their school bus stop in Louisville. In the past 46 years, 1,230 students have died nationwide, with the majority of children being under the age of 10. Those fatalities involved 792 students on the way home and 395 on the way to school, state officials said.

In Kentucky, it is illegal to pass a stopped school bus in either direction on a two-lane road if the warning lights on the bus are on. In April, during a statewide survey on illegal passing of stopped school buses, 304 incidents were reported to the Kentucky Department of Education.

School bus drivers use a flashing signal light system to alert motorists of what is about to happen. Yellow flashing lights indicate that the bus is preparing to stop to load or unload children. Motorists should slow down and prepare to stop their vehicles. Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate that the bus has stopped and that children are getting on or off the bus. Motorists must stop their cars and wait until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop sign is withdrawn, and the bus begins moving.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears