CHICAGO (CBS) — A driver blowing past a school bus in Indiana killed three siblings crossing the street last October. Bus stops might be empty for several more weeks, but the Morning Insiders are already looking ahead to back to school.
CBS 2’s Lauren Victory takes us inside the strategy of one Chicago suburb working to combat dangerous driving.
The wheels on the bus go round and round even when school’s out in Naperville, because of summer classes.
It’s no vacation for bus driver Scott Thomas, who constantly monitors the road for kids, cars, and culprits who don’t follow school bus stop arm rules.
“It bothers all the bus drivers. We get very angry about it, because the potential is for a tragedy,” he said.
When his stop sign is extended, that means drivers must stop and wait in most cases, depending on the number of lanes of traffic, and whether it’s a one-way street.
More than 10,000 students use Naperville’s school buses, and any of them could be crossing the street when one of those stop arms is out.
Thomas said, far too often, drivers go around school buses when the stop arm is out.
“I did a little unscientific survey of the rest of the bus drivers, and some of them say it happens five or six times a week,” he said. “I didn’t realize it would be that prevalent.”
You’d never know the problem was that common based on the number of people who actually get in trouble for it.
Illinois State Police cited only 17 people for stop arm violations statewide in 2017, 21 in 2018, and 10 so far in 2019.
Indiana State Police Sgt. Todd Ringle recently tweeted about more than 2,500 stop arm violation reports in a single day on April 23, when bus drivers throughout the state documented every stop arm violation on their routes. However, he said the number of tickets issued is “extremely low.”
In Naperville, police seem to focus on catching people who don’t wear seat belts, even though their own department says 95 percent of people on the roads already follow that law. So why not conduct stop arm specific campaigns?
“Understand the click it or ticket campaign that you’re referencing, that is a grant-funded program by the federal government,” Naperville Police Sgt. Derek Zook said.
It comes down to money, but in Naperville and several other communities police aren’t even the first line of defense for stop arm violations.
If a car zips by when it’s not supposed to, bus drivers are asked to record the make, model, license plate, and more; but sometimes that’s easier said than done.
“A lot of times you’re dealing with kids going out the door. Your attention is in a lot of different places at the same time,” Thomas said. “A lot of times, we don’t get the information we need to prosecute someone who does that.”
Still, even the smallest detail could make a difference. Officers caught a few violators near Washington and Douglas in Naperville, after identifying a pattern in reports by school bus drivers.
A handful of states can slap first time stop arm violators with a suspended license and jail time.
In Illinois, a judge can fine a driver for a first-time violation and take away their license for three months.
As of July 1, illegally passing a school bus in Indiana will get your license suspended for 90 days.