According to authorities, one of the most dangerous times students will encounter during their daily school routine is the few steps from the bus stop to the bus in the morning and afternoon, when drivers on the road are just waking up or thinking about getting home after work.
Just one week ago, three elementary school students were killed by a driver in Indiana as they crossed the road to get on their bus. The driver, a 24-year-old from Rochester, Ind., was later arrested after it was determined that she allegedly ignored the bus' stop arm and external lights, according to a press release from the Indiana State Police.
In April, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office and the Forsyth County Schools district partnered for a new program to discourage dangerous drivers by placing 30 cameras and detection software on various school buses in the county.
Recent stats provided by the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office show that since the program’s inception, over 300 citations have been issued to vehicles that allegedly passed county buses with extended stop arms.
More than one-third of the violations, 108, were recorded by the cameras in May, the first full month of the program. The number of violations has slowly dipped since, with 92 citations in August, 34 in September, 54 in October, and a handful in the summer months.
According to Cpl. Doug Rainwater, a sheriff’s office spokesman, each of these violations are reviewed and verified by a local deputy before being issued, and in each instance, it is clear that the motorist saw the sign, had ample time to stop but chose not to.
During the initial rollout, Rainwater said that under Georgia House Bill 673, colloquially called the “hands-free driving bill,” drivers passing school buses will face fines of $250, $750 and $1,000 for repeat violations.
He said that under the new bill, a violator’s vehicle tag will be “flagged” and prohibited from being renewed until the fine is paid.
On several of the videos, provided to the FCN by the sheriff’s office, motorists can be seen blazing past buses at full speed, unaware or uncaring of the potential danger posed to students.
“This isn’t a situation where the arm goes out, the car is halfway past the school bus and gets a ticket because it didn’t have a chance to stop,” Rainwater said. “They are verifying that a reasonable person if they were paying attention, would have been able to stop their car safely.”
Sgt. Andrew Chilton, with the sheriff's office school resource unit, said that beyond the fines posed by passing buses, it doesn't make sense why people are refusing to stop considering the potential danger it poses to children.
"The danger is that this is a school bus stop, so you have kids coming on and getting off the bus, and there shouldn't be any reason why you can't slow down and stop," Chilton said. "A lot of these kids are little kids ... if they were to drop their book bag or a paper were to blow out into the street, they wouldn't think about it and go running after it."
Even if you are trying to get to work or get home, Chilton said that the extra seconds cut off your commute aren't worth risking a life.
"Our goal is to help people obey the law and to help these kids be safe," he said.
He said that they have plans to have 20 more cameras installed by January.