|Wed, Oct 22, 2014 12:44 AM
|Issue of October 15, 2014
July 30, 2014 | 09:30 AM
As the 2014-15 school year gets underway today (Wednesday) at South Harrison schools, tomorrow at Lanesville and Aug. 6 at North Harrison, hundreds of students in Harrison County will join some 26 million fellow students nationwide who begin and end their day with a trip on a school bus.
Unfortunately, many bus drivers in the county report numerous stop-arm violations each day. A typical bus stop lasts only a few seconds, yet drivers — many who are distracted or are simply not paying attention — put children at risk with each violation.
Recently, Dr. Mark Eastridge, who took over July 1 as superintendent of the South Harrison Community School Corp., along with transportation coordinator Michael Key and School Resource Officer Mike Kurz met to discuss what Eastridge described as "an epidemic" of drivers running stop arms, particularly in the downtown Corydon area.
"Our biggest issues are here in town, around Chestnut Street and Capitol Avenue. We have three bus drivers who estimated at least 50 violations per year. In a 180-day school year, that's an alarming number, because that's 150 chances for a child to get hit," Eastridge said. "Most of the occurrences are taking place in the afternoon and with cars coming in the opposite direction as the bus is facing. That falls right in line with what national statistics show, and I'm sure the other superintendents in the county would agree that it's an alarming statistic that we need to address here.
"School corporations have made the commitment to protect the students while they are at school," he said. "We've secured the buildings and we've hired school resource officers, but we expose kids where they are so vulnerable. It really disturbed me."
Eastridge said last year a person driving south on North Capitol Avenue disregarded the stop sign on the bus and narrowly missed hitting a child as the child was walking across the street.
"If we have just one accident involving a child, it's one too many," Key said.
Eastridge said he's looking at having law enforcement step up patrols near problem areas in an effort to crack down on the illegal moves, and possibly placing spotters on buses to not just address "hot spot" areas where violations frequently occur, but also to get violators' license plate numbers to give to police.
Kurz, who also is an officer with the Harrison County Sheriff's Dept., said running a stop arm is an infraction, just like a speeding ticket, but it comes with a six-point violation against the person's driver's license. Because points stay on a driving record for two years, two stop-arm infractions, or a stop-arm infraction with a couple of speeding tickets, can result in a suspended license. If a person is injured while the infraction takes place, Kurz said, the offender can be charged with misdemeanor criminal recklessness.
"That kind of thing can affect insurance rates, not to mention reacquiring your license can be difficult," Kurz added.
In 28 states, including Indiana, about 20 percent of the nation's school bus drivers participated in a one-day survey to report how many times motorists passed their stopped school buses illegally. Nearly 100,000 drivers reported that 88,025 vehicles passed their buses illegally on a single day. Throughout a 180-day school year, these sample results point to nearly 16 million violations by private motorists.
"There are over 480,000 school buses on the road each day in the United States," Mike Simmons, president of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, said. "This survey captured only a fraction of the violations that bus drivers and other professionals in school transportation and law enforcement know are occurring each and every morning and afternoon. Students are far safer in school buses than the other ways they get to school, but, when they are outside the bus, they are the most vulnerable. Any driver who passes a stopped school bus illegally is gambling with a child's life."