INDIANA — You might soon notice more police vehicles on the streets during your daily commute.
This is because law enforcement agencies across the state are ramping up their patrols in an effort to improve safety for children who use buses to get to and from school.
Officers will be positioned along bus routes and school zones, where they'll be on high alert for stop-arm violations, speeding and other types of reckless driving, according to a news release from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute.
"School bus safety is a shared responsibility," said Gov. Eric J. Holcomb. "By following the law and taking some simple, yet necessary, precautions like slowing down and driving distraction-free, we can help ensure that every student reaches their destination safely."
The announcement comes after a 7-year-old Lakeside Elementary student was fatally struck while waiting for the school bus last week on Indianapolis' east side.
Metro police say Sevion Sanford was struck by at least two drivers, one of whom fled the scene in a light-colored sedan.
Sevion is one of at least five children killed by drivers in Central Indiana since 2021, according to WRTV's records. Others include:
- August 27, 2021: Saleina Marcelus, 12
- August 30, 2021: Lily Streeval, 16
- September 14, 2021: Hannah Crutchfield, 7
- December 11, 2021: Kyson Beatty, 11
Four of the five were heading to or from school.
Sevion's family and residents of Warren Harbor Apartments, where he lived, are now calling for the bus stop where he was struck to be moved.
In 2019, state lawmakers approved stricter penalties for drivers who pass school buses with stop arms activated. It followed the deaths of three children struck while crossing a highway to board a bus in Fulton County.
IMPD Officer William Young said the department will join more than 200 agencies participating in this year's campaign.
"Any time that we are productive as we can be in regards to school safety and bus safety, that helps," Young said. "What we're doing is educating people."
Young said Sevion's death is of great concern to IMPD. The agency is continuing to investigate that crash.
"It's very devastating and we will continue to pray for the family," Young said.
The effort is called the Stop Arm Enforcement (SAVE) Program, which was created by ICJI and is funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The program sees grants awarded to police agencies to conduct high-visibility patrols.
Police will conduct the increased patrols from 6-10 a.m., 2-6 p.m. Monday-Friday from March 22 to May 16 and Aug. 1 to Sept. 15.
Last year, over 2,700 drivers were cited for failing to stop for a school bus last year, the ICJI says.
"School buses have several highly visible indicators to let drivers know when to stop," said Devon McDonald, ICJI Executive Director. "The only way you’re going to miss those — the activated stop arm and flashing lights — is if you’re on your phone or not paying attention to the road. That choice can be deadly."
Police are urging drivers to slow down, focus on the road and never pass a school bus that has its red lights flashing and stop arm extended.
The stop-arm rule applies in all cases except for drivers heading in the opposite direction as buses on highways divided by a physical barrier, such as a wall or grassy median. Drivers heading in the same direction on those roads are still required to stop.
Failing to stop for a school bus is a class A infraction in Indiana and can result in a fine of up to $10,000 and a license suspension of up to days on the first offense, and for up to one year on the second.
Officials also say it's important to be prepared to stop when driving behind a school bus.
"You’ll never regret playing it safe, but you will regret driving past a stopped bus and injuring someone’s child," said Robert Duckworth, ICJI Traffic Safety Director. "These are people who have their whole lives ahead of them. No hurry is worth the possibility of robbing someone of their future or a family of their child."