INDIANAPOLIS — Several Indiana schools are back in session starting Wednesday, which means you’ll start seeing those yellow school buses back out on the roads.
Todd Hanson used to drive one of those buses for MSD of Washington Township Schools. He had been a bus driver there for 12 years before he quit in April.
Hanson said his kids were in danger and the school system wasn’t doing enough to help stop the issue.
A black Dodge Charger blew past his stop arm in an apartment complex back in March, nearly hitting a student getting off the bus.
”He almost took off my stop arm he went so close to the bus,” Hanson said.
Hanson said this was just the latest problem at one of two troubled bus stops in the same apartment complex.
”I try to be proactive and ask for help with these bus stops,” Hanson said. “Either move them or send me a law enforcement presence out here.”
Hanson provided us with emails showing he reached out to Washington Township Schools six total times between April 2021 and March 2022.
He said he never received the help he was looking for.
”I was asking them, ‘Please can you help me, please this is getting very dangerous here,’ the last two or three emails that I sent I was literally begging,” Hanson said.
Washington Township Schools did not have anyone available for an interview but did send a statement in part saying the school system looked at moving the bus stop in question but the new location did not reduce any safety concerns.
The system also said officers with school police went to the area of the violations to act as a deterrent to future violations, but Hanson said he never saw any officers near the stops when he was there and heard nothing about attempts to move the stops.
”They never said anything about that,” Hanson said.
Hanson said he was doing all he could to try and protect students from getting hurt by cars running stop arms.
”You just make sure your head is on a swivel, you check those mirrors, you check those mirrors,” said Hanson. “I hold students on my bus after the stop arm goes out to try and make sure things are as clear as possible before I send them across.”
But Hanson said he felt like he had to quit because his luck was running out. He was worried one of his students was going to get hit and there was nothing he could do about it.
”I quit my job because of the safety concern, I can’t watch these children being hurt, I just can’t do it. I love them like they’re my own children, their parents know I do,” Hanson said.
The issue of drivers running stop arms and endangering students is a problem across the state and country.
The Indiana Department of Education does a one-day survey of bus drivers to track how many stop arm violations happen in a single day.
”We partnered with over 6,600 bus drivers from 195 school districts statewide,” said Holly Lawson, a spokesperson for IDOE.
In that one-day survey, 2,041 stop-arm violations were charted. That is roughly one stop arm violation for every three buses.
”That’s not good enough for our kids, our kids need to get to school safety, they need to return home safely,” Lawson said.
The Indiana Criminal Justice Institute also watches out for this problem. The ICJI runs the SAVE Program. It gives grant money to more than 200 Indiana law enforcement agencies to pay for overtime patrols on school bus routes.
The spring SAVE program ran from Spring Break to the end of the school year officers issued 1,426 citations with 209 of those for stop arm violations.
”That’s a pretty significant number of violations,” said ICJI Executive Director Devon Mcdonald.
As school starts back up, these agencies and Hanson are pleading with drivers to slow down.
”It’s very selfish for motorists to try and take that 30 seconds that it’s going to take to stop and move on,” said McDonald.
The ICJI is doing its SAVE program once again this fall. From August to mid-September more than 200 law enforcement agencies across the state will be running overtime patrols to try and crack down on dangerous driving around school buses.
Here is the full statement from Washington Township Schools:
INDIANAPOLIS, IN (April 1, 2022) – Safety remains a top priority for the MSD of Washington Township (MSDWT) Schools Transportation Department as it transports thousands of students daily to and from school. An increasing concern in the community, and sadly throughout Indiana, however, has been vehicles who ignore the illuminated “stop arm” on school buses and drive past while the arm is extended.
Last week on Thursday, March 24, bus driver Mr. Hanson, implemented safety protocols to ensure students were safe from a vehicle who violated the stop arm at a high speed. We are thankful for his courageous actions implementing protocols to keep students out of harm’s way. This video footage shows the safety concern that the reckless driver caused by ignoring the illuminated stop arm and the courageous actions by the driver to keep students safe.
Mr. Hanson reported the stop arm violation safety concern to MSDWT on the evening of the incident. The following day, Friday, March 25, he met with MSDWT Transportation leadership to review the video footage of the incident. Unfortunately, the bus security camera footage was unable to capture the license plate number. An additional step was taken by the MSDWT Police to share the footage with the IMPD District Commander who advised that due to the angle and pixilation of the license plate picture, identification of license plate would not be possible. In light of the safety concern, MSDWT Police along with assistance from IMPD increased patrols in the area where the violation occurred. Unfortunately, Mr. Hanson resigned soon after the incident on Monday, March 28.
Previously, Mr. Hanson shared concerns with the Director of Transportation and Assistant Director of Transportation about stop arm violations on three occasions: 9/14/21, 2/23/22 and 3/24/22. Each time these concerns were shared with the Transportation Department, an evaluation of the bus stop was conducted to determine if relocating the stop was feasible. Additionally, the concerns were then shared with MSDWT Police. District officers were dispatched to investigate the bus stop, provide security assistance if needed, and act as a deterrent for future violations. MSDWT Police also shared the concerns with IMPD since the location of these potential infractions take place off MSDWT property. On 3/3/22 Mr. Hanson emailed Mrs. Smith, MSDWT Chief Business Officer, to state that he had an idea to share and he was directed to share the idea with his supervisor Mr. England. Mr. Hanson did not follow through or share any additional information with Mr. England regarding his idea.
The particular bus stop featured in the video is in an apartment complex that has apartments on both sides of the street. MSDWT Transportation, in collaboration with MSDWT Police, evaluated relocating the stop but concluded that alternative stop locations would create new risks and did not sufficiently reduce safety concerns.
The MSDWT Transportation Department and the MSDWT Police Department collaborate on bus safety matters by sharing information between departments and problem solving together. Additionally, all bus drivers are given procedures during safety meetings and training sessions, which outline guidance for reporting safety concerns to leadership. Mr. Hanson has personally attended training sessions and safety meetings on the following dates during the past year: 7/29/21 and 11/2/21. In addition, all bus drivers receive and review the “Transportation Services Handbook” prior to the start of each school year. This handbook contains detailed information about district emergency procedures, safe driving procedures, loading and unloading procedures, and “stop arm” procedures.
Student safety remains a priority for the Washington Township Transportation Department, and we continue to collect and analyze feedback from our bus drivers, police officers and community members. It is through this important stakeholder collaboration that we are able to continuously improve safety at our school bus stops and on our school buses.
MSDWT plans to continue to remind the community to follow bus safety laws and the media’s support in getting this safety awareness issue shared in our community is welcomed. Our drivers do a tremendous job each day following protocols to keep our students safe, and they need support from the entire community to do so. We need all members of our community to follow bus safety laws to ensure the safety of our many Washington Township students. If you see violations of bus safety laws by vehicles, please contact the Mayor’s Action Line at 317-327-4622 with the details including time, exact location, bus number, vehicle description, license plate number and video/photo documentation if available.