WINONA LAKE – Kosciusko County Traffic Safety Partnership announced Tuesday that it will be increasing patrols this back-to-school season to protect students going to and from school.

Starting as early as next week, officers will be out in greater numbers watching for stop-arm violations and motorists driving dangerously along school bus stops and in school zones, according to a news release from the Partnership.

This is all part of the state’s Stop Arm Violation Enforcement program, or SAVE blitz, which is funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration through the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute.

“With students heading back to the classroom, we need everyone to slow down, pay attention to the road and stop for buses,” said Craig Allebach, Traffic Safety Partnership grant administrator. “We’ll be on high alert this back-to-school season and have zero tolerance for unsafe driving around buses and in school zones. There’s nothing more important to us than the safety of our children.”

The department joins more than 200 across the state that will be participating in this year’s SAVE blitz, which is scheduled to last until mid September. As part of the effort, officers will be working with bus drivers and school transportation officials to identify areas where the high-visibility patrols are needed the most.

In the spring, departments that participated in the last enforcement campaign issued more than 5,600 citations and 1,700 warnings. Of the citations, 251 were for stop-arm violations, 309 for texting while driving and alarming amounts, nearly 1,900, were for speeding.

“Speeding around a bus or ignoring its stop-arm is not only illegal, it’s reckless,” said Devon McDonald, ICJI executive director. “It puts everyone on the road at risk, including children, and has to stop – too much is at stake.”

In Indiana, it’s against the law for motorists to pass a bus that’s stopped and has its red lights flashing and stop-arm extended. This applies to all roads, with one exception. Motorists who are on a highway that is divided by a barrier, such as a cable barrier, concrete wall or grassy median, are required to stop only if they are traveling in the same direction as the school bus.

“If you’re driving and see those yellow flashing lights, slow down and be prepared to stop,” said Robert Duckworth, ICJI traffic safety director. “Don’t try to beat the bus. Give yourself plenty of time or just arrive late. Rest assured, it’s better than getting a ticket or possibly taking someone’s life.”

According to NHTSA, the greatest risk to a student isn’t riding a bus but approaching or leaving one, so drivers are encouraged to slow down, put away the distractions and watch for buses at all times. It’s also important for parents to talk to their child about school bus safety.

Children should always look both ways before crossing the street and arrive at the bus stop at least five minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive. At the bus stop, they should stay 6 feet (five steps) away from the curb, and always wait until the bus comes to a complete stop and for the bus driver’s signal to board. Remind children that the bus stop is not a place to run or play.