RALEIGH, N.C. — A weeklong, statewide program in early February aimed to diminish the persistent problem of stop-arm violations.
As part of “Operation Stop Arm,” the North Carolina State Highway Patrol was out in full force to catch motorists who illegally passed school buses. Some troopers tagged along on board with the children, while others followed buses in marked and unmarked patrol cars.
The event ran in conjunction with “Watch Out for the Child Week,” the cautionary title that Gov. Mike Easley bestowed on Feb. 7 through 11.
Officials from several state departments, including the North Carolina Department of Crime Control & Safety and the Department of Public Instruction, held a press conference to commence the safety-themed week.
Once the week drew to a close, troopers had followed more than 1,400 buses and ridden along on 163 buses. More than 2,800 charges were filed during the program, including 29 for passing a stopped school bus.
Derek Graham, section chief of transportation services for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, said he hopes Operation Stop Arm will raise awareness of the stop-arm running problem throughout the state.
“Public education is the primary weapon in this battle,” Graham said. “This kind of program generates press coverage, which is the only way to get the word out on a widespread basis.”
Graham characterized the pass-by problem as “very big” and said it’s on the increase, pointing to one-day stop-arm violation counts in North Carolina over the past few years. The total number of violations reported on the sample day in 2004 was 2,188, up from 2,097 the previous year. The proportion of buses reporting violations rose gradually from 11.8 percent in 2000 to 16.3 percent in 2004.
Given the severity of the problem and the necessity of spreading the word about it, Graham said he thinks Operation Stop Arm or other similar programs should be held often.
Rhonda Fleming, the operations manager for transportation at Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, agreed. “There should be at least two weeks out of every school year — one in spring and one in fall — when we have a heightened awareness of the problematic areas in each school system,” she said. “The media was very kind to our school district and helped to get the message out to the public.”
The transportation department at Winston-Salem/Forsyth recently began additional measures to stop illegal pass-bys. On Feb. 4, the district reconvened its School Bus Stop Arm Task Force, which was formed in 1999 but had been on hiatus.
Fleming said that earlier in the school year, a student was struck by a vehicle that had run a stop arm. Fortunately, the girl recovered. But the incident was a stark reminder of what is at stake.
The renewed task force began working with the media, police and other groups to promote education on the matter.
“With the cooperation of the public, school bus drivers, law enforcement and judges, we can put a stop to stop-arm violations,” Fleming said.