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Halting bus arm violators: Officials look at increasing safety

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A Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. bus extends its stop-arm on Wednesday.
A Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. bus extends its stop-arm on Wednesday. PHOTO BY JOE HARPRING

Columbus Police Department’s regular-duty patrol officers could begin riding some Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. buses next month to better battle the problem of bus stop-arm violators.

“But that’s still a reactive step, and we’d like to find ways to be proactive instead,” said Lt. Matt Myers, department spokesman.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, is drafting legislation allowing school corporations to install cameras on stop arms to better catch violators in the act.

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

Stopping violators

State Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, 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.

That’s also the case with police officers in other areas riding the bus, said Karen Wetherald, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.’s director of transportation. She said school districts in other states such as Ohio have taken such steps to ensure student safety.

“They can help detect the make or model of a car or even the license plate,” said Wetherald, who said she supports the idea.

Wetherald and Myers said bus drivers often are too busy and focused elsewhere to catch such details.

Police have issued 20 traffic citations in the past month to motorists failing to stop when students are being picked up or dropped off by buses, Myers said. Penalties can range from fines to jail time for reckless driving for the most serious offenses.

“We now have zero tolerance toward violators,” Myers said.

Myers said there have been no close calls involving vehicles and students this school year, but police want to head off trouble before it arrives.

“We’re basically continuing our earlier awareness campaign for the public,” Myers said. “This increased enforcement is not about writing more tickets. It’s about keeping our children safe.”

Smith said he has become more concerned about the matter after conversations with state school officials that the most dangerous part of a student’s day “is getting on and off the bus.”

Wetherald said another element of safety involves motorists.

At some stops, bus drivers have reported that motorists approaching a bus have slammed on their brakes at the last second, nearly triggering accidents behind them with other motorists.

“That presents a whole separate set of problems,” she said.

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