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Editorial: School bus stop arms keep children safe

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We’ve all seen it happen: An impatient driver pulls around a stopped school bus, even though the lights are flashing, and the warning arm is extended.

Fortunately, we have had few cases in Johnson County in which a child was struck. But thoughtless motorists continue to put children needlessly at risk as they get on and off the bus.

Passing a stopped school bus is a violation of state traffic laws, but issuing tickets is a near impossibility.

State Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, is concerned about the risks and would like to help reduce such incidents. He is drafting legislation that would:

  • Allow school corporations to hire firms to install cameras on school bus stop-arms.
  • Carry an automatic fine for violators caught on camera.
  • Allow the firms handling the camera installation to share fine revenue with the school corporation.

“It seems to be working in other parts of the country,” Smith said.

The cameras would allow authorities to identify the make and model of offending cars and many times even the license plate number. Bus drivers are preoccupied with their basic safety responsibilities and caring for the youngsters on board and can’t take time to scrutinize the vehicles passing a stopped bus.

Another option is having police officers riding school buses and cite offending motorists. The officer could concentrate on identifying law-breaking vehicles.

But doing that raises the question of whether that’s the most effective use of manpower. If a particular route sees regular violations, then a ride-along officer could be a good idea and serve as a deterrent to would-be passers.

In Columbus, police issued about 20 traffic citations in the month before Christmas break to motorists failing to stop when students are being picked up or dropped off by buses. Penalties can range from fines to jail time for reckless driving for the most serious offenses.

There were no close calls with regard to the safety of youngsters, but police wanted to send a message to drivers to obey the law.

Clearly, the best solution to this problem is for drivers simply to obey the law and watch out for buses making stops. Potential delays of several seconds or even a few minutes hardly is worth risking a child’s life.

But for those thoughtless drivers who disregard clearly marked safety signals, a stiff fine might be the only deterrent.

We encourage Rep. Smith to pursue his bill in the current session of the General Assembly. It would provide another tool to help ensure the safety of our schoolchildren.

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