I-Team: Drivers making local bus stops unsafe for children

I-Team

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Parents have reached out to 22News saying their children are in danger while boarding the school bus, because of drivers barreling through bus stops.

Kimberly Canning walks her daughter across Breckwood Blvd. in Springfield every day before school. She told the I-Team, it’s a dangerous task.

“Cars do not yield to people in the crosswalk like they should,” explained Canning.

Then at the bus stop, she said drivers blow right past when the bus is stopped with flashing lights, to pick up kids.

“There are kids that are actually dropped off on the opposite side of the road for the bus that have to walk across to catch the bus,” said Canning. “They think they are safe when the lights are up for the bus.”

But, that’s not always the case. There have been more than 2,000 drivers in Massachusetts cited for illegally passing a school bus over the last three years. The law in Massachusetts requires stopping for a bus that has flashing lights and an extended stop sign, whether you are driving from behind or toward the bus.

You can only resume driving when the lights stop flashing or the sign folds back in. Even fire trucks, police cars and ambulances with their sirens on have to stop until the passengers have been loaded or unloaded.

“The buses are stopped and they’ll just come flying through sometimes,” said John English, a crossing guard on Breckwood Blvd.

Pam Reipold of Travel Kuz, which operates school buses in seven school districts in Massachusetts, told the I-Team kid’s lives are at stake.

“There were three kindergartners that got off the bus. The car went up, around the bus, and onto the lawn of the house right in front of us to get around the school bus,” explained Reipold.

In the past, bus companies across the state would send that car’s license plate information to the RMV. The RMV would then send the registered driver a warning letter. If the same car passed a stopped bus twice, the driver would get a notice for a hearing. But, the RMV no longer tracks this type of infraction anymore. This is a change that was made at the beginning of the 2017 school year.

In a statement to the I-Team, an RMV spokesperson said, they “determined that these serious claims should be vetted directly through law enforcement.” Reipold said her company now reports violations to local police departments, but it doesn’t have the same impact as sending them straight to the RMV.

“Because the police can’t act just on the driver’s say so – they need proof,” explained Reipold.

South Hadley Police Chief Jennifer Gundersen said it’s difficult to enforce these laws, but she sends warnings to drivers who are caught by bus drivers and other motorists.

“So, it’s not a violation that goes against their driving record, but it puts them on notice,” Chief Gundersen said. “Then, their information is in our system. If it were to happen again, I could increase and send a violation to them.”

Drivers face a $250 citation for a first offense, and $1,000 fine and six-month license suspension for a second violation, according to MassDOT.

A bill being considered in the Massachusetts Legislature would allow cities and towns to install and operate video camera monitoring systems, with audio recording capabilities, on school buses for the purpose of ensuring the safety of bus passengers and drivers.

The bill states, “All recorded video images obtained through the use of the monitoring system that do not identify any violations would be destroyed by the municipality or school department within 30 days of the date the image was recorded. All photos and other recorded information that identify a violation would be destroyed within 1 year of the final disposition of proceedings related to the enforcement or defense of a violation. School buses installed with the monitoring system would post signage indicating the use of the system.”

Senator Diana DiZoglio is the lead sponsor of the bill.

“It is imperative that we do all we can to protect the safety of our children. This important legislation, which allows our cities and towns to install and operate video camera monitoring systems on school buses, would go a long way in supporting efforts to save lives and prevent injuries.”

-Sen. DiZoglio

Violations in western Massachusetts cities

The 22News I-team requested public records from several western Massachusetts cities and towns to see what some of the most dangerous streets are. These numbers are from September 1, 2014, to October 31, 2019.

Northampton: Police made 17 stops totaling $2,645 in fines. Three of the stops were made on South Street: 145 South Street, 228 South Street, and 235 South Street.

Greenfield: Police made one stop on Wildwood Ave. in January 2018. The driver received a written warning for “failure to stop for a school bus.”

Holyoke: Police stopped 36 drivers totaling $5,265 in fines. High Street and Northampton Street had the most violations.

Ludlow: There were nine offenses totaling $1,115 in fines.

Wilbraham: Police made seven stops totaling $715 in fines. All seven stops happened on either Main Street or Stony Hill Road.

Springfield Police told the 22News I-Team that the Department “does not maintain a report/database of traffic stops by the type of infraction.”

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