In support of Operation Stop Arm week the State Highway Patrol will be aggressively enforcing stop arm violations and other traffic violations in and around school zones. The operation will be conducted from 6:00 a.m. on Monday, October 21 through Friday, October 25. The Patrol expects Operation Stop Arm will decrease violations and reduce school bus collisions.
Across the state, troopers will be working school zones and others will be following the buses. Troopers will be driving marked and unmarked patrol cars during the operation.
“We must protect our children from traffic dangers,” said Colonel Bill Grey, commander of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol. “The Highway Patrol will conduct this school bus campaign simultaneously in all North Carolina counties cracking down on stop arm violations. Motorists who try to pass a stopped school bus will be charged with the violation.”
Passing a stopped school bus is a Class 1 misdemeanor. If convicted, a person will receive five driving points on their driver’s license and is subject to fines up to $200. Passing a stopped school bus is a Class I Felony if the driver strikes an individual and a Class H Felony should the violation result in a death.
“We must ensure our children’s safety as they travel to and from school,” said Frank Perry, secretary of the Department of Public Safety. “A child’s life should never be put in danger just to save a minute or two during a daily commute. That’s why we’re going to make sure people know the law as well as the consequences of breaking it.”
During a one-day count in 2012, North Carolina school bus drivers witnessed 3,196 vehicles illegally passing stopped school buses at 2,299 bus stops. These violations occurred while the buses were stopped, stop arm extended with flashing red lights, and children were in the process of embarking or disembarking buses.
On April 18, 2013 Watauga Roads.com published an article about the proposed changes to a law regarding passing school buses illegally. For that article Toni Floyd the former Director of Transportation for Watauga County Schools from 1990 until 2011, and now current DOT for Craven County Schools, said this has been a big problem for a long time.
In an email to WataugaRoads.com Floyd stated she “had a meeting with the district attorney’s office and local law enforcement a few years ago to express concerns that these cases weren’t being prosecuted according to the law. Cases went to court and defendants were getting reduced sentences”. She went on to add that it is a state-wide problem, not just Watauga County.
Floyd also pointed out that “a problem that is unique to the mountain counties however, is the number of Tennessee drivers who pass through the area. Law enforcement cannot prosecute an out of state driver unless they catch them in the act”.
For that same article Jeff Lyons, current Director of Transportation for Watauga County Schools, said the problem is still widespread in Watauga. He referred to the statewide conducted “One Day School Bus Stop Arm Violation Count” on March 21, 2012 where Watauga had a total of 8 violations.
There is discussion of putting stop arm cameras on buses statewide according to the website School Transportation News. Lyons says it would cost around $2000 a bus for that to happen.
Operation Stop Arm comes on the heels of the death of a 17 year old Rowan County student who was killed in the early morning of Thursday October 17 at a bus stop.
To assist law enforcement agencies cameras have been installed on the outside of some school buses according to the Highway Patrol. Under the Nicholas Adkins Safety Act, video evidence can be used to prosecute stop arm violations. The act increases the penalty for those who strike and kill a child when they pass a stopped school bus. The Nicholas Adkins School Bus Safety Act is named after the Rockingham County teen that died when a driver did not stop for a school bus that had stopped and extended its stop arm.
For further information concerning school bus safety and illegal passing please visit the Department of Public Instruction’s school bus safety web site at http://www.ncbussafety.org/.