Police on lookout for those illegally passing school buses

Baldwin School Resource Officer Bill Calkins keeps an eye-out for stop-arm violators Thursday as a student heads home after disembarking the bus. (H-W Photo/Phil Carlson)
Posted: Sep. 27, 2013 6:57 pm Updated: Oct. 11, 2013 8:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Shane Barnes could only hazard a guess as to how many times bus drivers with the Quincy Public Schools see people disregard the stop arms on school buses.

"It probably happens between 10 and 20 times a day," said Barnes, director of transportation. "It's a terrible thing to do."

Area law enforcement agencies came together this week to monitor school safety zone enforcement. Officers with the Illinois State Police, Quincy Police Department and Adams County Sheriff's Department rode on buses in area school districts during the day.

With a chase car ready to apprehend any violators, officers were on the lookout for people passing buses, speeding, texting and using their cellphones in school zones -- all prohibited by law.

ISP launched its "Drive Home School Safety Zone" message last week. Troopers throughout the state will work with other law enforcement agencies to place a special emphasis on road safety around schools.

"It's mainly done for awareness," said Trooper Mike Kindhart, a safety education officer with the Illinois State Police. "When we talk about details, you look at in a couple manners. We do it for educational purposes and awareness, so we can avoid the enforcement side. Yet, we were there to be able to take the enforcement as necessary."

Kindhart rode in a Payson School District bus for nearly an hour. Another state trooper followed the bus in case there were any violations. Fortunately, there were none.

"We can use it as a positive measure to let the public know that we only rode one bus, and at least on that bus there were no violations observed," Kindhart said. "It means the motoring public is obeying by what we are asking for, which is for the safety of our children on those school buses."

Officer Bill Calkins, the school resource officer at Baldwin Intermediate School, rode an afternoon bus from Baldwin. Barnes said Calkins was put on a route that sees a high number of stop-arm violations.

Barnes said bus drivers who see stop arm violations must fill out a report. Barnes said he is contact with the Quincy Police Department on an average of twice a week to file reports of violations.

"We have to have the license plate number and a good description of the driver," Barnes said. "Everything has to be perfect for us to report it to the police."

Calkins and Officer Brent Holtman, who is the school resources officer at Quincy Junior High School, both say that stop-arm violations are a problem that need to be addressed.

"It happens when we have six or seven buses parked in front of the building," Holtman said. "People just aren't paying attention. Maybe this will give them a wake-up call."

Calkins said it is illegal to pass a school bus when the stop sign on the driver's side of the bus is extended. He said the only exception is when there is a physical median in the road. A turn lane, like the one that is used on Broadway, does not exempt drivers from stopping. If a bus were to stop on Broadway and extend its stop arm, all cars in both directions must stop until the stop arm is retracted.

Members with the Adams County Sheriff's Department did a ride-along in the Liberty School District.

Kindhart said these efforts are important in helping keep children safe.

"Kids' safety is a No. 1 priority," he said. "They are the future of our society. We need to do whatever we can do to keep them safe going to and from school."