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Connellsville police to monitor school bus stops

| Friday, Oct. 7, 2011

School bus drivers turn on red flashing lights for students to board or exit the bus. When those red lights flash, drivers may not pass the bus, even if the road has two lanes in the same direction. Vehicles approaching the bus must also stop when red lights flash. All vehicles must stop at least 15 feet from the bus.

The penalty for breaking this law is a hefty fine and a two-month license suspension.

For the 15th year, PennDOT and the Connellsville Police Department will work together to promote traffic safety around Connellsville Area School District buses with Operation Safe Stop.

Operation Safe Stop aims to educate motorists that passing a stopped school bus when children are loading or unloading is both dangerous and illegal.

"We've always participated," said James Lembo, district transportation director, "but we are giving it more publicity this year."

This year, Operation Safe Stop will take place on Oct. 19.

While the red flashing light law is enforced every day, Operation Safe Stop seeks to focus drivers' attention on the law.

"You need to slow down and be paying attention," Connellsville police Chief James Capitos said. "Watch your speed and always pay attention."

In addition to additional police patrols, bus drivers will fill out a "Violation Tracking Form" that they will complete with a brief description of the driver, the license number, vehicle color and body type, as well as time and approximate location of the illegal pass.

The forms will be provided to police within 48 hours of violations.

"Then, we forward these forms to PennDOT for their records," Lembo said.

Connellsville police will increase patrols in the morning when buses pick up children and again in the afternoon when they drop them off after school.

Capitos said, "Our extra patrols will be mainly along Eighth and Ninth streets."

He said the penalty for a conviction of passing a school bus with its red lights flashing is a $250 fine, plus court costs and a 60-day license suspension. "It's expensive in more ways than one."

To obtain a conviction, the car's plate number and driver who passed the bus must be identified. "The driver may not be the car's owner," Capitos said.

He said that bus drivers have not made "a huge number of complaints to the police department. Since the start of this school year, I can't recall any reported complaints, but we want drivers to be aware of the law and watch out for the children."

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