NORTH LIBERTY, Ind. (WNDU) - Drivers have an important responsibility to pay attention to the vehicles around them as they share the road with school buses that transport children to and from school each day.
With recent tragedies involving Michiana school buses, you'd think people would be more mindful about bus safety, especially on highways.
But that's not necessarily the case.
NewsCenter 16’s Tricia Sloma has heard from several bus drivers and parents who say too many drivers are still breaking the law and passing stopped busses on highways.
Sloma heard from Lynne Taylor, who lives on State Road 23, a busy highway that links Walkerton and North Liberty to South Bend. Taylor said plenty of people pass school buses illegally right in front of her house, and she has the video to prove it.
“As soon as they get past Quinn Road and they see the straight stretch, they open it up,” Taylor said. “You can hear them hit the gas. It's scary.”
Taylor, a mother and grandmother, has lived on S.R. 23 for 11 years and sees a lot of drivers' bad habits around school buses.
“There's a no-passing zone right in front of my house. On both sides, you're not allowed to pass, but people do it all the time,” Taylor said.
About two years ago, she got fed up and started recording with her smartphone. Her videos have captured car after car breaking the law.
“It's been escalating ever since the beginning of this school year,” Taylor said.
Two different buses pick up her children at two different times. Her videos show a chilling story: cars passing her kids’ buses illegally.
In one video, the yellow lights were flashing on the bus, which means the cars don’t have to stop, but the cars don’t even appear to slow down.
On an icy morning two weeks ago, a Great Lakes Heating and Cooling van can be seen in Taylor’s video passing the bus and tapping the brakes.
“If he hit the brakes any harder he might've slid into the bus,” Taylor said. “… Or my kids.”
She put the video on social media and contacted Great Lakes right away. Owner Mike Ritter admitted the video doesn't look good.
“You can see why she was angry?” Sloma asked Ritter.
“Absolutely,” Ritter replied. “And that's why I felt it appropriate to privately apologize that day. I got ahold of her immediately.”
It turns out, Ritter knows the highway dangers all too well.
“From the pit of my stomach, as soon as I saw that video, I knew what Lynne was going through,” Ritter said.
Ritter once lived on a highway but moved after a close call with his own child who chased a ball down a hill.
“The truck totally took out the ball, and my son was just a few feet from that truck. We put our house up for sale immediately,” he said.
Ritter has since met with Taylor on a number of occasions as he tries to find a way to make amends and make the community more aware of school buses.
“We need to be ultra-aware of buses and where they are stopping and make sure that we give ourselves plenty of time to stop,” Ritter said.
He's offering free yard signs that say “School Bus Stops Here” to anyone in the community who wants one.
If you're interested in a sign, you can contact Ritter at Mikejr@glhvac.com or 574-287-2397.
“My driver should've tried to slow down much sooner,” Ritter said. “All we can do from here is educate everybody, both my team and hopefully others in the community, as well.”
Taylor was amazed at Ritter’s response to the situation.
“It made me feel at that moment that someone cared about my kids,” she said.
She just hopes that drivers will get the message to stop for school buses.
In the meantime, she’ll be watching.
“Every day, every day,” Taylor said. “Until the last kid boards the last bus for the last time, I will be out there.”
North Liberty police have increased their patrols south of town, but that area is technically part of the county. They want to remind drivers that all lanes of traffic of an undivided highway need to stop when the school bus stop arms are out and the red lights are flashing.
After the NewsCenter 16 interview, Taylor learned some good news: The John Glenn School transportation director contacted her to let her know that all of her children will be picked up curbside. In other words, her children won't have to cross the highway.
The district is working to reroute all of their highway pickups and drop-offs.
But what about the rest of the state? Curbside drop-off and pickup is the focus of a petition by a Rochester mother that we featured in our special report last month.
Sloma is talking with lawmakers about highway school bus requirements, plus potential stop arm camera legislation. She will have the latest developments in her next installment of Never Again: Preventing Bus Stop Tragedies. Stay tuned.
If you would like to contact either State Senator Randy Head or State Representative Jim Pressel, here is their contact information.
State Senator Randy Head
200 W. Washington Street
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Phone: 800-382-9467 or 317-232-9400
State Representative Jim Pressel
Indiana House of Representatives
200 W. Washington Street
Indianapolis, IN 46204800-382-9841 or 317-234-9380
Here’s the link for Jessica Chambers' petition on Change.org: change.org/p/require-buses-to-board-without-children-crossing-the-street