Stop Means Stop: Caught on Camera - Part 2
(WNDU) - There are some drivers who are learning the hard way that you don’t pass a bus that’s stopped with red flashing lights. Thanks to changes in Indiana and Michigan laws, there’s now video evidence to catch illegal drivers.
Tougher laws went into effect in Indiana in 2019. They just started this month in Michigan. Both states allowing video evidence and stiffer penalties to send a message to drivers that Stop Means Stop. Lawmakers hope that the fines will teach drivers a lesson and will deter them from doing it again, avoiding tragedies.
Unfortunately, it’s still happening. Children are dying because drivers break the law. A high school girl named Lily Streeval was struck and killed, August 30, 2021 as she crossed a roadway to board her bus near Columbus, Indiana.
On a dark October morning, this Penn-Harris-Madison (PHM) bus is hard at work and so are stop arm cameras, capturing evidence of illegal drivers.
“You might not see us, but we’re still there,” said Lt. Tim Williams, Mishawaka Police Department.
“Three years ago, we didn’t have that law in our corner to say we could look at stop arm cameras. Now we can,” said Williams. “I think when people figure out that’s what we’re doing, I’m hoping that’s going to deter them from passing our school buses.”
Williams is the lead coordinator for the St. Joseph County Traffic Safety Partnership. He collects the violation data for the PHM and School City of Mishawaka districts. It’s paid for by a SAVE grant from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute. SAVE stands for Stop Arm Violation Enforcement.
“We are paid overtime to look for those violations. So, the officers aren’t working their regular shifts,” said Williams.
There was a time when this enforcement was only handled by officers following buses. While they still hit the streets, now, they also take the time to look at stop arm camera video evidence.
“That grant money also pays for officers to review the video footage from the bus that have these incidents happen when we’re not there,” said Williams.
And it’s working.
PHM added stop arm cameras to all of their buses in February of this year.
From March to June, PHM buses had 28 violations. Only six were caught by patrol officers. 22 came from video evidence.
And from just the start of this school year, from August to October, there have been 14 violations.
Compare that to data from the same time period in 2019, before PHM had cameras. There were zero violations to report. Remember, that’s when they relied solely on police following buses.
Police can’t be everywhere the buses are, but cameras can.
“I’m seeing everything. A couple of people I reached out to on the phone didn’t realize they did it. And others, they’re just driving right by,” said Mishawaka Assistant Police Chief Bryan Fox.
Assistant Chief Fox looks at the videos sent by PHM and sends clear evidence to the prosecutor’s office.
“It gives all different views,” explained Fox. “The way the cameras are set up on the bus, it gives a front view, a back view and a side view. So, it actually sees the violator. With the actual stop arm is extended. And the lights are flashing, the violator, you see them coming. You see them at the side and passing.”
We even saw an example of two violations in one stop.
“Coming and going,” said Fox.
“Get the video. Get the report. Send it up. We’re going to hold those folks accountable,” said Ken Cotter, St. Joseph County Prosecutor.
Prosecutor Cotter is tough on school bus violators and supports the use of stop arm cameras.
Are they helping?
“Without a doubt, they are helping. Traditionally, we wouldn’t be able to know who the driver was, even who the registered owner of the car was because the car moves so quickly it’s hard to get that information. With the cameras; cameras don’t lie,” said Cotter.
All the prosecutor needs is the image of a plate number to charge someone with an infraction.
“I don’t need to know who the driver is to file the ticket. I just need to know who the registered owner of the car was,” explained Cotter. “I file a ticket against the registered owner of the car, that person comes in and if they were the driver, they’ll own it, and we go on our merry way and they recognize, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ Sometimes it’s not them. It’s their kid driving the car.”
If there’s a plate number and clear image of the driver, then they can be charged with a misdemeanor.
So how much could passing a stopped school bus cost you?
It is a case-by-case basis, but in Indiana, the fines are usually a couple hundred bucks. The state law allows courts to fine a violator up to $10,000. And get this, it’s eight points on your license.
“It’s 8-point violation. Your insurance is going to go through the roof,” said Cotter.
“Your license can be suspended when you reach 12 points,” said Williams. “So, one ticket of 8 points? Doesn’t give you much leeway for your next ticket. And if you get more than one in a year, you’re going to have a suspended license.”
Across the state line in Michigan, new stop arm camera laws went into effect just this month.
How much will it cost a stop arm violator in Michigan?
“It’s the judges’ discretion,” said Michigan House Transportation Chairman Jack O’Malley. “It’s up to $500.”
The Michigan District 101 representative worked on the legislation that was signed into law this year by Gretchen Whitmer. It took effect in mid-October, allowing stop arm camera video evidence in the courts.
“When the red lights are flashing, no passing. That’s a pretty simple rule,” said O’Malley. “Know that now if you do, you’re going to get caught and ticketed. Maybe this first year there’s going to be higher enforcement, and those people will just be used as an example. And then people will get the hint that you need to protect those buses.”
Indiana’s House Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Pressel was one of the sponsors of Indiana’s bus safety laws in 2019. He wants to see Indiana’s stop arm camera laws get even tougher.
“It’s great technology, we just need to utilize it a little bit better,” said Pressel. “This technology isn’t something that just happened, yesterday. So, it’s very well thought out. It continues to improve. It can be the helper for law enforcement, because they can’t be everywhere.”
And that’s why Lt. Williams says the video evidence is so vital.
“We take it very serious. We’re talking about children’s lives,” said Williams. “That bus is picking up children. The lights are going to be flashing red. That stop sign is out. You must stop.”
Prosecutor Cotter says the video evidence is carefully scrutinized and sometimes it shows the driver wasn’t at fault. Maybe the stop arm wasn’t fully extended. Also, sometimes the early morning darkness makes the video too difficult to read, and that can’t be submitted. But improvements are being made all the time and drivers need to be in the habit of stopping for those red flashing lights.
If you would like to see if your school district’s buses are equipped with stop arm cameras, here is a survey conducted with every school district in our viewing area:
Tricia Sloma spoke with area prosecutors about the law allowing stop arm camera video evidence in the prosecution of drivers. Kosciusko County Prosecutor Daniel Hampton responded with this statement explaining the details:
The Kosciusko County Prosecutor’s Office is dedicated to protecting children and students with strict enforcement of school bus safety laws.
Our ability to enforce these violations has been significantly aided recently with the help of new laws passed by the legislature, stiffer punishments for offenders, and new technology.
Indiana drivers are required to stop for a school bus that is stopped with its red signal lights flashing and stop sign arm extended in most cases. A driver following behind a school bus in the same direction is always required to stop. A driver approaching a stopped school bus from the opposite direction must stop unless they are on the other side of a divided highway separated by a grassy median or concrete barrier.
To catch stop arm violators, many school buses in Kosciusko County are equipped with stop arm cameras – and more are on the way. If a violator is caught on camera, the prosecutor – working together with police - will determine whether and what charges to file. This is true even if the violator is not immediately stopped at the scene. It is also true even if the camera does not show the driver’s face, because Indiana law today allows charges to be filed against the registered owner of the passing car. (I.C. 9-21-12-1(d)).
Because of the increased awareness of the importance of these laws in our community, the number of motorists illegally passing school buses seems to have decreased. But with the new laws and new ability for camera enforcement, our ability to catch and criminally charge these offenders has significantly increased.
The penalty for those caught and convicted can be severe. Violators can expect to pay a fine anywhere up to $10,000, have their license suspended for up to 90 days (1st offense) or up to 1 year (for repeat offenders), and face up to 1 year in jail. The jail time may be increased if the violation causes bodily injury or death (I.C. 9-21-8-52(b)) (I.C. 35-50-3-2)
LaGrange County Prosecutor Travis Glick is also passionate about stop arm enforcement. Glick shared the following data:
From Jan. 1, 2019 to today, LaGrange County has had 10 misdemeanor level violations and 68 infraction level violations. In September, Glick announced Project SAFE for Kids. Click here to view the story: LaGrange County “S.A.F.E. for Kids” raising awareness, stop-arm violations (wndu.com)
And here is a reminder of the traffic rules when sharing the road with a school bus. Here’s when you must stop:
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