GRAND LEDGE, Mich. — Grand Ledge Public Schools’ transportation department is taking on the problem of illegal school bus passing through multiple efforts, including partnering with local law enforcement and educating the public of the state’s laws for driving around school buses through billboards.
Transportation Supervisor John Legus told SBF that the district had 200 stop-arm violations reported during the 2012-13 school year, and so far this school year, there have been 70 violations reported.
The district outfitted its school buses with stop-arm cameras last school year, and this has helped in capturing instances of illegal passing, while the transportation department’s good working relationship with local police departments has helped in ensuring that violators are cited for the offense.
“There are two officers in particular who are great: Eaton County Sheriff Deputy Ryan Keast and Grand Ledge police officer Mark Sleep,” Legus said. “They go out and they issue tickets and make sure it’s taken care of. They take the issue to heart.”
Legus and his transportation colleagues at Grand Ledge Public Schools are also working with legislators to change Michigan’s law regarding the fines for illegal bus passing offenses. Legus said that currently, the maximum fine is $1,000, but there is not a set fine — it varies throughout the state, and some areas have the jurisdiction to reduce the fine to as low as $105.
“We’re asking for change so that there’s one set fine across the state,” Legus explained. “We’re also working on putting a proposal before the state saying that for any school buses equipped with video cameras to record stop-arm violations, a portion of the fine from that ticket should go to the school system whose bus was involved.”
In addition to working with local police, the transportation department staff has focused on educating the public through various media outlets.
Adams Outdoor Advertising donated digital billboards to the district’s cause to run for six weeks for free. The billboards are placed at busy intersections and along highways throughout the state, and they say, “All lanes must stop for school buses with red lights flashing! Up to $1,000 fine. Camera enforcement utilized.”
“When I contacted Adam’s Outdoor Advertising [to discuss the issue], the person I spoke with told me that it had a special place in his heart because he had a friend who disregarded the red lights on the bus and hit a child,” Legus said of securing the signage for free. “As time goes on, we’re going to reach out to other billboard companies. We’ve also had the Michigan Department of Transportation put up portable billboards throughout the area reminding drivers that they need to stop for school buses. We’re working with them to try and get permanent signage throughout the state.”
A local movie theater in Grand Ledge has also agreed to spread the word about the state’s stop-arm laws by displaying a message on the theater screen before movies start, and Legus said he is working on approaching larger theaters across the state as well.
“Let’s face it: A lot of young people go to the movies, and they create some of the biggest problems with stop-arm running,” he reasoned.
Another goal is to outfit all of the district’s school buses with a second stop-arm signal, placed at the back of the bus on the driver’s side. Currently, all of Grand Ledge Public Schools’ buses are equipped with one stop sign, with some of the buses in the fleet equipped with a second stop sign.
“Our bus drivers are very much in support of that, and one driver told me that the second stop sign made a big difference on her route,” Legus said.
He added that he is very proud of the transportation team at his district and the steps they have taken together to address illegal bus passing.
"I am a strong believer in the people, and in this case they have made such a difference," Legus noted. "They are awesome."