NORTH RIDGEVILLE - The numbers are alarming.
Police cited 79 drivers last school year for illegally passing stopped school buses picking up or unloading students.
That’s nearly three times as many as the 28 citations police handed out during the during the 2017-18 school year. During the 2016-17 school year, police handed out six citations, North Ridgeville Law Director Brian Moriarty said.
So far, no one has been hurt by a driver passing a stopped school bus.
City and school leaders hope video surveillance cameras installed last December on the side of five new buses in its 59-bus fleet will catch more offenders in their first full year of use and serve as a deterrent. That, and a potential fine of up to $500. Since school began in the North Ridgeville district on Aug. 21, cameras have caught five passing violators, said Tammy Kaczmarek, district transportation supervisor.
"It's been a problem for quite some time, and it seems to be getting worse," Moriarty said "It seems as though more people are in a hurry or just not paying attention. Hopefully, that's going to change. It needs to change. It must change before a bad accident happens in our district."
The new video cameras are the main reason the number of citations has climbed in North Ridgeville. The school board bought five buses with video surveillance cameras following complaints by residents Holly Swenk and Robyn Ringwall. The two mothers of young schoolchildren had videotaped motorists passing stopped buses.
The district is purchasing 10 more new buses equipped with cameras that should be in place by November. The buses range in price from $89,000 to $100,000 each, and each video surveillance system with one camera on the stop arm and three cameras inside the bus costs $11,000, Kaczmarek said.
The camera catches the vehicle’s license plate number. The school district's transportation department then forwards the possible incriminating video to police for review.
If police determine that a driver illegally passed a stopped school bus or came within 10 feet of the bus's safety perimeter, officers deliver a citation to the address on the vehicle’s registration, Kaczmarek said.
"It shouldn't be too hard for people to be paying attention to what a school bus is doing," Kaczmarek said. "A bus's yellow caution lights, the ambers as we call them, start flashing 300 feet before the driver stops. When the bus stops, the red flashing lights come on, the stop arm goes down and the door opens."
Yet motorists keep passing, and most don’t realize they have done it, Moriarty said.
"When those people get to court, they insist that they would not have passed a stopped school bus and usually recall a different account of what's on the video," he said. "But, after seeing themselves on camera, their tune changes a little bit."
Cited drivers must report to Mayor’s Court. Violators are fined up to $500 and get dinged with 2 points against their driver's license.
On March 20, the Ohio School Boards Association asked bus drivers to keep track of passing violations. A total of 187 of Ohio’s 614 school districts participated or responded, according to Pete Japikse, a senior transportation consultant to the Ohio School Boards Association.
The roughly 4,500 school bus drivers who participated reported 1,500 passing violations that day, Japikse said.
"We see this as a serious issue, and we're planning to conduct another survey this fall with hopefully more school districts participating," Japikse said.
Japikse said that the main hours motorists should be aware of school buses are 6 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Drivers also are out between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. for afternoon kindergarten classes in some districts, Japikse said.
Moriarty said the city is not crafting legislation to increase penalties for motorists who illegally pass a stopped school bus as Avon Lake has.
Avon Lake City Council increased the maximum fine from $500 to $750 last month. The new law also allows a judge to impose a jail sentence of up to 30 days.
Under a general state traffic law, passing a stopped school bus can result in a fine of up to $500, according to the Columbus Traffic Attorneys website. Other ramifications may include receiving license points or having a driver’s license revoked.
Swenk, who will begin serving on City Council on Jan. 1, declined to comment when asked if she would propose tightening the law on passing stopped school buses. However, she said she has closely monitored the citations and followed some cases.
One case involved a motorcyclist who passed a stopped school bus on the right and went between the bus door and the student on the side of the road, Swenk said.
“C’mon, get real,” Swenk said. “The punishment needs to fit the crime.”
"It's unbelievable," she said. "I've seen it all. I feel like some people are clueless and some don't care."
Rick Stickland of South of the Square Collision Center of North Ridgeville donated yard 100 signs that remind drivers not to pass a stopped school bus with its lights flashing.
North Ridgeville Schools Superintendent Roxann Ramsey-Caserio and Mayor Dave Gillock also have donated 100 signs each.
"Safety is our number-one concern," transportation supervisor Kaczmarek said. "The cameras are working wonderfully for us. They're pretty good and it's pretty clear to see who's driving the vehicle passing the bus. When in doubt, stop.”
But Kaczmarek said she doesn't think the signs or the cameras are deterrents.
"I don't think it's made a difference, yet," she said. "People are too self absorbed or so involved in themselves. They're on their phones or in a hurry. They're not paying attention. They're in their own little world."
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