Police, PennDOT team up for school bus safety

PUNXSUTAWNEY — State and local police departments have joined forces with PennDOT District 10 and the Punxsutawney Area School District for National School Bus Safety Week and Operation Safe Stop.

The purpose is to raise public awareness about the consequences of improperly passing school buses and to reduce occurrences, said Shawn Houck PennDOT District 10 press safety officer.

Houck said school bus drivers in participating school districts will record the information of any motorists who pass their buses illegally.

Law enforcement officials also will patrol targeted areas, either traveling on school buses or following behind to enforce Pennsylvania’s School Bus Stopping Law, Houck said.

Sgt. Carl Medsgar, station commander of Pennsylvania State Police Troop C, said troopers are looking for problem areas at which drivers pass buses that have activated their red warning lights.

If there’s an area where vehicles are not observing the red warning lights, police will either follow the bus or set up in that area to see if a violation occurs, he said.

Cheryl Repik, transportation director for the Punxsutawney Area School District, said buses are on the roads every day, and that motorists must be on the lookout during travel times.

Repik said when a bus driver turns on the yellow warning lights, a driver should begin to slow down. However, they can still travel past a school bus legally until the red lights are activated.

Punxsutawney Borough Police Chief Tom Fedigan said over the years, his department has heard concerns about school buses being passed with their red lights on.

“We work closely with Cheryl Repik,” he said. “When there is a problem area, she calls me, and we focus on that area.”

When an incident such as this occurs, officers need as much information as possible, such as a vehicle’s license plate number, or something more than just a description.

Houck said school bus stop safety is all about awareness.

“When motorists see that yellow bus and flashing lights, they are to use every precaution possible to make it safe for the children to board the school bus,” he said.

This applies not only to the students who ride the bus, but walkers, too, Houck said.

If convicted, penalties could include a $250 fine, five points on one’s driving record and a 60-day license suspension.