INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Dozens of Indiana police departments are getting a combined $380,000 to boost traffic enforcement at school bus stops and help impose new penalties for motorists who put children in danger by driving past stopped school buses.
The funding from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute comes as Indiana children are heading back to school following the summer break. The grants, which will cover overtime enforcement for 39 police agencies over the next two months, range from $49,975 for police in Fort Wayne — Indiana's second-largest city — to $1,050 for police in the small southern Indiana town of Paoli.
Gov. Eric Holcomb, whose office announced the funding on Monday, said Indiana police officers "will be enforcing increased fines and penalties for drivers who recklessly pass bus stops and drive aggressively."
State lawmakers included those tougher fines and penalties in a state law adopted last spring to protect the thousands of children from distracted or inattentive motorists when they converge daily at bus stops. The changes were spurred by the deaths of three siblings fatally struck last October by a pickup truck in northern Indiana's Fulton County while crossing a road to board their stopped school bus.
Under the beefed-up law, drivers who illegally pass a stopped school bus can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor that's punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000. That penalty rises to a Level 6 felony punishable by six months to 2 1/2 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine if someone is injured when a motorist passes a school bus.
Drivers who kill someone by recklessly passing a stopped bus would face a Level 5 felony carrying a one- to six-year prison sentence and up to $10,000 in fines.
Lawmakers also gave courts the ability to suspend the driving privileges of someone who violates the state's school bus stop-arm law. Driving privileges can be suspended for 90 days or for up to one year for repeat offenders.
Motorists failing to stop for school buses is a nationwide problem, according to data collected by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services. The national organization has coordinated a survey on the topic since 2011 and its 2019 results — from counts in 39 states - found that 95,319 vehicles passed school buses illegally on a single day during the 2018-19 academic year. Nearly 131,000 school bus drivers took part in the count.
In Indiana, nearly 6,900 participating bus drivers reported 2,653 violations in the group's count. Assuming that one-day count is the average for every day that school buses are on Indiana roads, it's likely that more than 475,000 cars pass a stopped school bus during a single school year in the state, The Indianapolis Star reported.
Mike LaRocco, who's the president of the national organization and also serves as Indiana's school transportation director, called those numbers "shocking," The Journal Gazette reported.
"The sheer volume of these illegal passing incidents in a day, let alone an entire school year, is tragic and sobering, particularly when you consider that these injuries and deaths are easily preventable," LaRocco said.