CLARKSVILLE, IN (WAVE) - More than two months ago, three children were killed and a fourth injured when a driver hit them as they were boarding the school bus in northern Indiana. Now, a new bill is being proposed in the Indiana Senate that would better protect kids and increase penalties for drivers breaking the law.
Every school day, eight bus drivers shuttle Clarksville’s 600 students to and from class. Safety is a priority with the drivers and kids; they take a number of precautions to keep students safe, but it’s everyone else on the roads schools worry about.
“Our biggest concern is in the morning," Scott Gardner, Transportation Director for Clarksville Community Schools, said. “The student is waiting on the other side of the street, they’re energetic, they’re happy to go to school and you can’t count on them to be 100 percent alert. So we need drivers to be looking for these big yellow buses.”
Nearly every day, Gardner said he gets a call from one of his bus drivers saying a driver has gone around them on the road while picking up or dropping off kids.
"It's a regular occurrence for our drivers to pass a stop arm, state-wide, nation-wide. In fact, daily, I'll get a call from a driver saying ‘hey, it happened on this street or on this lot’,” Gardner said.
Clarksville isn’t alone with this issue. Schools around the state and the country face similar problems.
"Well, it's extremely frustrating because we're worried about the safety of the students," Gardner said.
Senate Bill 2 would combat that by increasing penalties for drivers who illegally go around while the bus’ stop arm is out. That proposed change is something many in the community support.
“Yes, I do,” Teresa Liburd said.
“You know, we have laws that protect our public servants when they’re on the side of the roads. I think we need to do something that will hold people more accountable if they do make a poor choice when it comes to school buses,” said Keisha Reschar.
If you injure someone going around a bus with its arm out, it would qualify as a felony. If you’re caught just going around, it’s misdemeanor.
“Even though that’s a low level offense, previously it’s been an infraction and the difference is now that officer can make an arrest,” Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull said.
With the threat of jail or prison time, fines and probation, Mull said this bill would encourage drivers to pay attention and put down their phones. And if they do break the law and go around the bus, it makes it easier to hold them accountable for their driving.
“In the past, I would have to look at other criminal statutes to see if that conduct violated, say criminal recklessness or a reckless driving statute. But this would make it much easier for me to have a statute created for this offense,” Mull said.
Gardner’s hopeful if the bill passes, it sends a message to drivers.
"Look for these buses, look for these yellow, flashing lights and red flashing lights,” Gardner said. “We’re counting on it.”
Senate Bill 2 would also require school districts review school bus routes and bus safety policies, allow for a petition of reduced speed limits in areas where students board buses, and ensure that students do not have to cross a state highway to get to and from the bus.