Eliminating distracted driving


Seymour Community School Corp. wants to put a stop to stop-arm violators.

In the first week of school, the district documented 24 incidents where motorists drove around school buses picking up or dropping off children at bus stops.

Tim Fosbrink, director of transportation for Seymour Community Schools, realizes it takes a little while for motorists to get used to having school buses back on the road again.

"Everybody is getting back into the groove," he said.

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But that’s no excuse for distracted driving, which is the No. 1 cause of stop-arm violations, he said.

Two years ago, the district was part of a new campaign with the Seymour Police Department to catch distracted drivers by putting police officers on school buses.

The officers look for drivers who are texting or otherwise distracted and radio back to another officer following in a police car so they can make a traffic stop.

On Aug. 5, three days before school started this year, the initiative resulted in officers pulling over 68 drivers, issuing six tickets for texting and making six arrests in just four hours.

Police did another distracted driver blitz Wednesday. Although he didn’t have the statistics back yet, Fosbrink said he expected them to be high.

During the 2018-19 school year, Fosbrink recorded a total of 613 stop-arm violations beginning in September 2018, but police only issued 13 tickets because they have to witness the violation themselves, he said.

The majority of the tickets came from Indiana State Police, followed by the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department. One ticket came from the Seymour Police Department, Fosbrink said.

"I don’t know that it’s effective in stopping stop-arm violators, but distracted driving is the leading cause of stop-arm violators, so if we limit distracted driving, we should see a drop, but I can’t say that we have yet," he said.

Similar patrols will take place throughout the school year as long as funding is available on law enforcement’s end, he said.

The Seymour Police Department received $3,000 earlier this month from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute to help offset overtime accrued during school bus stop enforcement over the next two months.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Department also helps out and has increased patrols at school bus stops and school zones to catch speeders and distracted drivers, Fosbrink said.

In the near future, the Seymour Police Department will be assigning a school resource officer to ride buses in certain areas Fosbrink calls hot spots for stop-arm violations.

Two of those hot spots are U.S. 31 and Fourth Street Road from O’Brien Street to Burkart Boulevard.

"We do not see hardly any out in the country," Fosbrink said.

It’s not just motorists who need to be educated, as children, bus drivers and parents all need to take responsibility for safety, too, Fosbrink said.

"The biggest thing that needs to be done is training everybody on what to do around school buses," he said. "I think we do a fairly good job, but it’s not enough."

Up until this year, the punishment for violators who ignore school bus stop arms was a $500 fine. A change in state law that went into effect July 1 raised the penalty from a Class A infraction to a Class C misdemeanor and is now punishable by a fine of up to $5,000, up to one year in jail and a 90-day suspension of the motorist’s driver’s license.

Although he understands the intent of the change, Fosbrink said it is actually making it more difficult on school corporations to prosecute stop-arm violators because people are now hiring lawyers to fight the charges in court.

"I don’t know if it’s going to help or not," he said. "I’m leery of it."

The new school bus safety legislation also prohibited stops that require kids to cross highways. The change caused Fosbrink to have to adjust a few bus routes.

"We did not have that many," he said. "Thank goodness we’d already done that in a lot of areas. We’d been trying to eliminate that the best we can."

Seymour had around 40 bus stops where kids had to cross a highway with U.S. 31 having the most, he said.

"We made some adjustments to make that happen," he said. "It was not that big of an impact for us. Now, I know I’ve heard from other schools they’ve had to add routes because of it."

Last year, ridership was at 4,300 students. With a projected increase in ridership of around 200 students this school year, Fosbrink said all 34 bus routes are full, and he likely will have to add another route somewhere.

"We do have some overload issues," he said.

One of those issues is the increase in students in the Margaret R. Brown Elementary School neighborhood.

He doesn’t think the corporation has seen its peak in growth yet.

"I’m going to have to add a route eventually, exactly how yet, I don’t know," he said.

But that isn’t going to be easy with a shortage in bus drivers. Since the positions are part time, it’s harder to fill them, he said.

Fosbrink has put up signs at most of the schools advertising that the corporation is hiring.

"What would be perfect is housewives or single parents whose kids are in school," he said. "It’s not a bad gig, and they can get insurance."

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