Drivers ignoring the “no passing” flashing lights and stop signs on school buses could soon be facing higher fines and jail time in Avon Lake.
On Monday, City Council will be voting on an emergency ordinance that would increase fines for the offense from $500 to $750, and allow a judge to impose up to a 30-day jail sentence. If approved, the law would be in effect for the start of the 2019-20 school year on Wednesday, Aug. 21. The ordinance was introduced by councilman David Kos during the Council meeting on Aug. 12. He recommended that Council forego the three required discussions or readings on the ordinance and pass it to make it effective immediately.
In March, Avon Lake was among districts that took part in a statewide study by the Ohio Department of Education's Transportation Department involving more than 4,000 school bus drivers monitoring illegal passings. About 35 percent, or 1,500, reported passing violations of drivers just "blowing by" as the bus’s “No Passing” lights were flashing. The number of districts that participated in the study was not available.
On March 20 alone, Avon Lake’s drivers reported 11 motorists committing passing violations, said Kos and Avon Lake Schools Superintendent Bob Scott.
"Once I heard those numbers, that was alarming, and caused a lot of concern for me," said Kos, whose son is a high school junior and rode the school bus from kindergarten through eighth grade. "Those numbers of violations are what caused me to act and move forward with this. On a moving violation scale, a driver passing a school bus with its lights flashing while picking up a child is about as bad as it gets."
The offense currently is an unclassified misdemeanor, meaning a judge decides if jail is warranted. Other unclassified misdemeanors include minor gambling offenses, littering or transporting garbage in an unauthorized vehicle.
Kos said that educating the public about the law, which he believes will be approved Monday, is just as important as the law itself.
Scott, who supports the law targeting illegal passing of school buses, said the law fits with the district's overall safety plans for students.
"That 30 seconds (it usually takes a student to get on the bus) is a critical time for students is when they walk off the sidewalk or across the street to get on the bus," Scott said. "Drivers don't know where those kids can be. We have 2,500 students and 30 bus routes. One of those kids going out to the bus might forget something and run back across the road to the sidewalk to get it. These are kids.
"Anything could happen in that 30 seconds," Scott added. "Don't hurry. Get off your phone. Pay attention. This law of possibly going to jail would keep it in peoples' minds.”
Kos' proposed ordinance comes before City Council less than three months after Avon Lake schools accepted delivery of two school buses equipped with seat belts. The buses are part of a one-year pilot program. Resident Rudy Breglia and Holly Moore Kowalski last year campaigned for seatbelts in school buses.
Breglia, president of the School Bus Safety Alliance and supporter of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration's campaign, "Seat Belts Save Lives," was not involved in Kos' ordinance, but said he supports it.
Breglia started pushing for seatbelts on school buses following the fatal rollover crash in Chattanooga, Tenn. in November 2016. That accident killed six children and injured 26. The driver was using his cell phone when the crash happened.
More recently, three siblings - a 9-year-old girl and her twin 6-year-old brothers - were killed in northern Indiana on October, 2018, after being hit by a 24-year-old woman passing a bus that had its lights flashing and “stop” arm out.
"I certainly support the idea of anything that would increase the safety of children on school buses that would help eliminate passing violations," Breglia said. "School-bus-passing violations are totally unnecessary, especially when the safety of children is at stake. I'm sure people have the patience to wait for buses to pick up kids."
Added Supt. Scott, "We need for the adults to pay attention, too.”
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