As students prepare to return to classrooms next week, superintendents and elected leaders from Allen County's school districts announced Wednesday a joint effort to keep school bus riders safe.
The “Slow. Stop. Stay.” public service campaign is targeting the widespread problem of drivers illegally passing school buses – behavior that happens nearly 200 times each school day in Allen County, according to the districts.
“It's time for that to stop,” Phil Downs, superintendent of Southwest Allen County Schools, said during a news conference at the Fort Wayne Community Schools North Transportation Center.
School board members and others from FWCS, East Allen County Schools and Northwest Allen County Schools joined Downs, as did police from multiple agencies.
Supported by Parkview Health Trauma Services, the campaign will feature printed material, yard signs, billboards, social media posts and TV public service announcements.
“There is nothing so important that drivers can't take a moment to stop for children trying to get to school,” FWCS Superintendent Wendy Robinson said in a statement. “Every time a driver fails to stop for a stopped school bus, they are putting children's lives at risk.”
That 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.
Lt. Tony Maze of the Fort Wayne Police Department stressed that stop-arm violations are not confined to a single area.
“It's a public safety issue that affects everyone,” Maze said.
A three-week targeted enforcement campaign in March resulted in Fort Wayne and Allen County police issuing more than 60 citations for stop-arm violations.
In April, nearly 6,900 school bus drivers statewide recorded 2,653 violations during a one-day count. Of those, 171 happened in Allen County, the school districts reported.
The Indiana Criminal Justice Institute recently awarded Fort Wayne police a $50,000 grant to increase traffic enforcement at school bus stops. Enforcement begins next week and will run through mid-September in the mornings and afternoons, Maze said. He added that New Haven police and Allen County sheriff's officers will also participate.
“This isn't just an issue of law enforcement trying to write tickets or meeting some kid of a quota,” sheriff's spokesman Steve Stone said. “We're out there not only to save lives but to educate the drivers. It's time to slow down and pay attention.”
Drivers must stop when school buses are picking up or dropping off children. In most cases, vehicles traveling in both directions must stop. On divided roads, only vehicles traveling in the same direction as the bus are required to stop.
Legislators this year passed a bill that stiffened penalties for Indiana drivers who recklessly pass school buses when the stop arm is out.
“I hope we don't prosecute anybody for this,” said Michael McAlexander, Allen County chief deputy prosecutor.
Slow. Stop. Stay.
Allen County's stop arm campaign reminds drivers to react this way around school buses:
• Slow down when a bus's yellow lights are flashing.
• Stop when red lights are flashing and the stop arm is extended.
• Stay put until the lights stop flashing and children are out of the way.