NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: County campaign reminds drivers to slow down, stop for school buses

We have written here frequently about the issue of school bus safety since last year’s tragedy in Rochester when three children were killed by a pickup as they crossed a road to board their bus, which had its lights flashing and stop-arm extended.

Every day, there are nearly 200 school bus stop-arm violations in Allen County. Too many drivers don’t seem to understand that passing a stopped school bus with its lights blinking and its stop arm extended is not only dangerous but against the law.

So we were glad to see that Allen County’s four public school districts, supported by Parkview Health Trauma Services, launched a public service campaign last week to hammer home the message with even more publicity as Allen County schools were preparing to begin their new year this week.

“If you see a bus with its lights flashing, Slow. Stop. Stay!” Southwest Allen County Schools Superintendent Dr. Philip Downs said during a news conference at the Fort Wayne Community Schools North Transportation Center Wednesday. “Not only is it the right thing to do, it is the law; the lives of our kids depend on it.”

School board members and others from Fort Wayne Community Schools, East Allen County Schools and Northwest Allen County Schools attended along with representatives from the Allen County School Safety Commission, the Fort Wayne Police Department, the Allen County Sheriff’s Department, the Indiana State Police, the Allen County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and Parkview Health Trauma Services to improve student and bus safety with a focus on education.

The “Slow. Stop. Stay.” campaign is designed to remind drivers to slow down when yellow lights are flashing; stop when red lights are flashing and the stop arm is extended; and stay put until the lights stop flashing and children are out of the way.

The campaign will include printed material, yard signs, billboards and social media campaigns throughout the year.

“There is nothing so important that drivers can’t take a moment to stop for children trying to get to school,” said Dr. Wendy Robinson, superintendent of FWCS, the largest school district in Indiana. “Every time a driver fails to stop for a stopped school bus, they are putting children’s lives at risk.”

And while this campaign focuses on school buses stopping to pick up or unload students, we would emphasize the need for drivers throughout Allen County and Indiana to always slow down, not only when buses are on the roads to pick up or deliver children, but in school zones as well, whether there are buses or not.

“Hopefully, the campaign will serve as a reminder that as we … begin a new school year, we all benefit from remembering that our youngest students are still learning how to navigate on their own, so it’s critical that we slow down near school zones and stop for buses,” said Dr. Chris Himsel, NACS superintendent. “Traffic patterns will change … school zones and buses will be active so we must be patient.”

It is a too common sight in Fort Wayne and Allen County to see drivers speeding through areas where children are waiting for buses or walking to school. All too often we cringe at the sight of other drivers running through yellow lights — even red lights — at intersections where crossing guards are preparing to escort groups of children across the street.

We’re glad for this new campaign of awareness as we were glad for the Indiana Legislature’s decision this year to stiffen penalties for school bus stop-arm violations.

But for the sake of our kids and their families, please, everybody, be extra careful at all times around schools, school buses and the precious lives they have in their charge during this school year.