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Editorial: No tolerance for stop-arm violations

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The recent tragedy in Newtown, Conn., has understandably brought a renewed focus on the subject of security for our school children.

The ongoing debate about cause and effect is even more relentless given these particular circumstances, but fears of such an inexplicable assault have spread throughout the country.

The tragedy is that such fears are not the only concern when it comes to ensuring the safety and well-being of our children.

Locally, one of those safety concerns was raised last month by Columbus police and Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. officials who are exploring ways to make it safer for local children to get onto and off school buses.

That such a routine activity in the school day for hundreds of local students would draw the kind of attention it is getting might seem unfounded to some observers. But Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, put the issue in some pretty stark terms.

Following conversations with school officials around the state, Smith observed recently that the most dangerous part of a student’s day is “getting on and off the bus.”

The major dangers in those activities stem from a growing disregard of school bus safety laws by motorists, principally a law that requires drivers to brake immediately once the stop arm on a bus is extended.

The frequency of these violations is illustrated by the fact that police issued 20 traffic citations to violators of that law in the past month alone. The frightening aspect to the situation is that the 20 tickets represent only those who were caught. Scores, perhaps hundreds of violators, were not detected.

Columbus police began stepping up their efforts in trying to halt the law-breaking this past year, but it is apparent that more is needed.

One step under consideration is to routinely assign officers to some of the buses, providing an extra set of eyes to help observe and eventually catch violators.

If anything, the police presence on buses is likely to dramatically increase the number of citations issued. Hand out enough expensive fines — a jail sentence could also be in the cards — and motorists are likely to get the message.

Rep. Smith wants to add another layer to that detection ability.

He is drafting legislation that would allow school corporations to install cameras on the stop arms to record violators.

While Columbus police point out their preference for pro-active measures over reactive ones, it is clear that there is a significant number of drivers who simply don’t get the message or don’t care.

As Lt. Matt Myers, spokesman for the Columbus Police Department noted, “We now have zero tolerance toward violators.”

He added, “This increased enforcement is not about writing more tickets. It’s about keeping our children safe.”

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