Police Patrolling School Zones

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School bus drivers have a big responsibility making sure kids get to and from school safely, but other people on the road aren't making it easy.

Knowing the rules of the road in school zones could save lives and save drivers a costly ticket.

Stop arm violators are drivers who go around stopped school buses, and they're a growing problem in Michigan. The state had more than 10,000 reports of people driving around stopped buses last school year, and one local community has been especially plagued by them.

It's drivers in Grand Ledge who seem to be in a hurry.

"I've seen so many times the bus is stopped, the stop sign comes out, and somebody just trying to hurry up and make one last move, and a little kid is running right across," Wacousta Elementary Principal Chris Groves said.

Nothing tragic has happened yet, but Grand Ledge Police say it's only a matter of time.There were 200 reports of stop arm violators last school year, and even eight complaints in one day.

"For some reason they feel there's not a need to stop," School Resource Officer Chris Chester of the Grand Ledge Police Dept. said. "I've heard all the excuses. They didn't see the flashing lights, they thought the kids had already crossed, and most common is being late to work."

It's gotten so bad, Michigan State Police troopers and Eaton County Sheriff's deputies will be patrolling school zones carefully throughout the area to hopefully cut down on these incidents and catch the dangerous drivers.

"You have to be aware of what's going on in your surroundings, that's part of being a responsible driver," Eaton County Sheriff Tom Reich said.

It's also about knowing the rules. Police say drivers should treat the flashing lights of a school bus like a traffic signal. When a school bus has it's red stop arm out, drivers are required to stop at least 20 feet away, no matter which direction you're traveling. Don't start driving again until the bus does.

The only time a driver is allowed to pass a stopped bus is if they're separated by a solid median. That means concrete obstruction or grass has to be between the car and the bus, which is where drivers might also spot cop cars.

"Our point isn't to issue citations, it's to enforce the laws," Sheriff Reich said. "That's the most important thing, our children's safety."

Grand Ledge now has eight school buses with video cameras to catch the stop arm violators, and others will have state troopers riding along to monitor the roads. They've also introduced two brand new buses - the first like them in the state - equipped with more lights and dual stop signs, so drivers can't miss them.

"If you get stuck behind a bus, it's only going to add two-three mintues to your drive time, and it's our kids," Groves said. "It's our future, just take your time."

A ticket for passing a stopped school bus could cost up to $1,000 and three points on your license.

Police will also be watching for people speeding through school zones.

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