NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Indiana taking much-needed actions to prevent school bus passing violations

“Where’s a cop when you need one?” Haven’t many of us said that when we’ve seen a driver passing a stopped school bus?

It is especially on our minds since three siblings were killed and another child injured in Fulton County in October when a pickup struck them as they were preparing to board a stopped school bus that had its lights flashing and stop sign extended.

But Indiana is responding, both with law enforcement efforts and legislation.

Most recently, authorities in LaGrange County are trying to crack down on such infractions by making sure police are, in fact, there when someone breaks Indiana’s school bus stop-arm law. LaGrange County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Travis Glick says local law enforcement is randomly stationing officers on buses to watch for motorists who violate the law. Officers who witness infractions can radio information about the violation to officers nearby in marked police cars.

Glick told The News-Sun of Kendallville there are eight school bus stop-arm violation cases pending in LaGrange County.

The Fort Wayne Police Department initiated a two-week effort in March to go after drivers who disregard Indiana’s stop-arm law, which requires drivers to stop when buses are picking up or dropping off children. Several drivers were cited for passing buses that had stopped in the area of St. Joe Road and Canterbury Boulevard. Fort Wayne Community Schools public information officer Krista Stockman said the main entrance of Canterbury Green Apartments is an area where the school district sees the most stop-arm violations.

Meanwhile, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed legislation on May 1 that increases the penalty for illegally passing a school bus from a Class A infraction to a Class C misdemeanor. The punishments provided by Senate Bill 2 would include a 90-day suspension of a driver’s license. The bill increased fines for school bus violations and “provides that school corporations and nonpublic schools may enter into agreements with third parties to administer camera enforcement of school bus stop arm regulations.”

These efforts are the right ones. But we also encourage law enforcement to continue to vigorously enforce this law as much as possible to help save lives.

In Indiana, drivers must stop when buses have their stop arm extended and red lights flashing. On two-lane roads or multi-lane roads with no barrier between lanes, vehicles traveling in both directions must stop. On multilane roads with barriers between lanes, only vehicles behind the bus must stop.

The Indiana Department of Education conducts a voluntary one-day count of drivers each school year who illegally pass buses. Bus drivers count vehicles that pass their bus when the stop arm is out. Those results are reported to the district, which totals the violations and reports them to the state.

The 2018 count in Indiana, the Indianapolis Star reported, tallied 3,082 drivers that illegally passed stopped school buses across the state. If that number represented an average day, more than 500,000 drivers may have illegally passed stopped school buses during that school year.

Nationwide, school districts in 38 states counted more than 108,000 drivers passing buses in a single day.

Such statistics are alarming and reinforce the need for legislation, more aggressive enforcement and hopefully, more attentive and safer driving habits among us all.

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