INDIANAPOLIS — Motorists who illegally pass a school bus will face tougher enforcement in some parts of the state.
Gov. Eric Holcomb announced $380,000 in grant funding from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute for increased traffic enforcement near school bus stops across the state, WTHR reports. The funding will be shared among 230 Indiana police agencies. Holcomb said that the agencies will use the funds to equip officers with resources to enforce increased fines and penalties for reckless and aggressive drivers, according to the news source.
In Delaware County, stop-arm runners are now required to go to court, Muncie Star Press reports. City Court Judge Amanda Dunnuck and Deputy Prosecutor Joe Orick have changed the process regarding the offense in an effort to change the public’s behavior, according to the news source.
After the fatal school bus crash in October 2018 that killed three students who were siblings and injured one other, Dunnuck told Muncie Star Press she looked into court records and found that the court sees about 30 stop-arm violations per year.
Motorists who were ticketed for illegally passing a school bus now have to contact the clerk within 60 days for a court date and appear in court that day to plead guilty or fight the charges. Dunnuck could have increased the fee to $500, according to the newspaper, but by having the offender appear in court, she can pull their driving record and decide whether a bigger fine or possible driving suspension may be warranted.
Dunnuck told Muncie Star Press that she thinks the cause of running a stop arm is that motorists are not paying attention. She also told the newspaper that she "would hate to think that someone gets to pay $75 and court costs for not paying attention, because that's really not enough to change behavior."
These efforts are part of a larger crackdown in the state that has come in part in the form of a new law, signed by Holcomb in May, that increased penalties for violating a stop arm from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class A misdemeanor. Penalties are also raised from a Class A misdemeanor to a Level 6 felony for a stop-arm runner if the action results in injury, and to a Level 5 felony if the action results in death. The court may also suspend the motorist’s driving privileges for 90 days for a first offense, or, if the motorist has committed at least one previous school bus passing offense, for one year. Additionally, the court can now charge a motorist convicted of a stop-arm violation a “safe schools” fee between $200 and $1,000.
Also, in July, Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill Jr. released an opinion stating that the board that establishes school bus safety standards can allow the use of extended stop arms in the state. He added in his opinion that because Indiana law prohibits motorists from passing a school bus when its stop arm is extended, any motorist who illegally passes a bus would be liable for any property damage or personal injury that occurred as a result.