FORTVILLE — Charley was just a kindergartner when it happened.
Her mother was helping the girl onto the bus, off to school for the day; the car came out of nowhere. It zoomed around the bus, the flashing arm and stop sign; Charley’s mom, Kellie Leny, almost got hit.
A child or parent being struck by a car while getting on or off the school bus is a scary thought for parents and administrators alike; preventing such an accident is the impetus behind new technology being installed on Mt. Vernon School Corp. buses.
The school corporation is rolling out a series of technology updates to its bus fleet educators hope will give parents and drivers a little peace of mind.
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In the coming weeks, Mt. Vernon’s school buses will be equipped with cameras to capture images of drivers who go around the buses’ stop arm. Simultaneously, the district is launching a cellphone app for parents that will allow them to watch in real time where their child’s bus is through GPS tracking. Administrators hope the app will aid parents as they decide when to send their children out to wait for the school bus, especially during winter when inclement weather can delay pickup or drop-off times and put children at risk of exposure.
The district started the initiative by installing cameras on both sides of the stop arms on buses used in heavily trafficked areas, such as Fortville Pike and State Road 234. But by the end of the year, all 38 buses are expected to be equipped with the technology, said Maria Bond, the district’s communication director.
Bus drivers make every effort to drop students off on the same side of the street as their house so they don’t have to cross in front of the vehicle, said Superintendent Shane Robbins.
Equipping buses with cameras is one additional step the district can take toward making the 2,000-plus students who ride the bus safer, Robbins said.
He hopes more drivers will yield to buses if they know they’re likely to get a ticket after school officials pass video along to local police.
State law already prohibits drivers from passing a school bus when its stop arm is extended, and drivers who are caught by police face a Class B misdemeanor and a fine of up to $1,000.
The district’s initiatives come alongside a state lawmaker’s effort to push a bill through the Statehouse that establishes civil penalties for drivers who are caught on camera driving around stop arms. If the bill passes, a first-time offense caught on camera will cost a driver $300. Should they be caught on camera a second time in a five-year period, the penalty increases to $750 and then $1,000 for a third offense.
State data show stop-arm violations occur frequently throughout the state.
Annually, the Indiana Department of Education performs a one-day count, asking bus drivers across the state to track stop-arm violations. Last April, some 200 school districts reported to the DOE nearly 3,000 drivers ignored the bus’ stop sign and drove around the vehicle.
Locally, the offense occurs too often for Leny’s comfort.
She and her family live on Fortville Pike, where Charley — now in fourth grade — is picked up and dropped off before and after school.
On more occasions than she can count, Leny has watched drivers traveling on the busy thoroughfare slow down and pass around the bus while her daughter is getting on or off.
For a parent, the sight is terrifying.
“It’s crazy dangerous,” Leny said. “Our children are everything, and some people just don’t care.”
She applauds the district for investing in the cameras, which she hopes deter drivers from putting her child in danger.
Robbins said the district will work with police in Fortville and McCordsville, passing the camera footage along to officers for violators to be investigated. He hopes word about the cameras spreads, encouraging drivers to follow the law and stop every time a bus arm is out.
Robbins hears about drivers going around the buses’ stop arms somewhat frequently, at least once a month, and that’s too often, he said.
“One child getting hit would be a catastrophe,” Robbins said. “If we can do something to try to prevent that, we’re going to do it.”
Mt. Vernon School Corp. is launching a cellphone app that will allow parents to track where their child’s bus is in real time.
So far, three buses have the program, called Here Comes the Bus, installed. During the next few months, all 38 buses in the district’s fleet will be equipped with the technology. The program uses GPS to track a bus’ location.
Educators say the program will allow students to stay safe and warm in their homes until their bus is ready to pick them up, especially during inclement weather when delays are likely.
As the program is loaded on buses, parents will receive a flyer letting them know when their child’s bus is equipped with the program.
Additional information can be found on mvcsc.k12.in.us/HereComesTheBus.