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The Journal Gazette

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Tuesday, July 09, 2019 1:00 am

Longer school bus stop arms not in plans for FWCS

Cost, effectiveness cited as reasons for district's stance

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

Cost and effectiveness are factoring into Fort Wayne Community Schools' decision to hold off on equipping school buses with extended stop arms to prevent other vehicles from passing school buses.

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill said in an official opinion that no federal or state laws prohibit the use of the devices. Such opinions don't have the force of law but are generally respected by courts.

Regular school bus stop arms typically extend a stop sign 18 inches from the bus whereas extended arms range from 41/2 feet to 61/2 feet, according to the opinion.

“We're aware that product exists, but we're not looking at adding it at this time,” FWCS spokeswoman Krista Stockman said Monday.

Along with the considerable cost involved – FWCS had about 250 regular school buses last academic year – Stockman said the district isn't convinced the longer mechanism would be an effective way to stop drivers from violating the stop arm.

Officials with Southwest Allen County Schools and East Allen County Schools couldn't be reached for comment.

Northwest Allen County Schools considered extended stop arms in the fall but tabled the issue after debating the pros and cons, Superintendent Chris Himsel said Monday.

“It doesn't mean we won't revive it,” he added.

NACS uses other strategies to make bus stops safer for students, including limiting the number of stops that require students to cross a road, Himsel said.

State law requires drivers to stop when school buses are picking up or dropping off children. In most cases, vehicles traveling in both directions must stop. On multi-lane roads with barriers between lanes, only vehicles behind the bus must stop.

The danger of illegally passing school buses was reinforced last year, when a 9-year-old girl and her 6-year-old twin brothers were killed in late October as they crossed Indiana 25 to board a school bus. The crash in Rochester also seriously injured a fourth student.

Drivers failing to stop for school buses is a problem nationwide, according to data collected by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services. The organization has coordinated a survey on the topic since 2011.

The 2018 results – which comprised counts from 38 states and Washington, D.C. – found 83,944 vehicles passed buses illegally on a single day during the 2017-18 academic year. About 108,600 school bus drivers participated.

In Indiana, almost 7,600 participating bus drivers reported 3,077 violations.

In March, Fort Wayne and Allen County police conducted a three-week traffic enforcement effort focusing on illegally passing school buses. City police issued 62 citations while the sheriff's department had two violations.

Schools in several states are using extended stop arms to address this problem, Attorney General Hill wrote. The devices have reduced the number of illegally passing vehicles from 50% to 100%, depending on the district, he added.

Drivers who pass a school bus while an arm signal device is in use would be liable for any property damage or injury, Hill wrote.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

asloboda@jg.net