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CRACKDOWN MARKS SCHOOL BUS SAFETY WEEK

After police statewide spent Thursday morning creeping behind school buses, watching for motorists who illegally passed them at stops, a couple of infractions in Erie County bear mention:

A tractor-trailer rolled past a stopped bus on Walden Avenue in the Town of Lancaster.

A man in a car passed a bus on the grounds of a Town of Amherst school after dropping off his daughter.

Sgt. Gary Horton of the Erie County Sheriff's Department, the Western New York coordinator for "Operation Safe Stop," said those two motorists were among six in the county who were issued summonses for passing stopped school buses. There were another three in the rest of the eight-county region.

In addition, nine summonses were issued in the region -- all in Erie County -- for other violations of vehicle and traffic law.

"The most serious one of the day . . . would be the one in the Town of Lancaster," Horton said. "I'm glad we got that one today."

The penalties attached to those summonses also bear mention: Since 1989, first-time offenders face a minimum fine of $250, five points on their licenses and as many as 30 days in jail.

The fines and jail sentences increase with each infraction, and three violations in three years result in a mandatory revocation of a driver's license.

Thursday's program marked National School Bus Safety Week. In Western New York, hundreds of officers representing approximately 70 police agencies hit the roads between 6 and 9:15 a.m. With some agencies using unmarked cars, police vehicles kept close behind and to the right of the buses, Horton said.

In the Town of Lancaster, another motorist was cited for passing a stopped school bus on a divided highway, Horton said. The driver pleaded ignorance, claiming he didn't know vehicles had to stop even on four-lane highways, the sergeant said.

Statewide, motorists are the second leading cause of transportation deaths involving students, Horton said. Topping the list is accidents involving school buses.

In the last three years, he continued, 30 students statewide have been hit by motorists. There has been just one fatality during that period: The February death of Jeremy C. Hall, the 6-year-old who darted in front of the school bus that had just dropped him off near his home on Allenhurst Road in Eggertsville.

The goal of "Operation Safe Stop" is to educate motorists about the dangers of passing stopped school buses and also to enforce the law, Horton said.

Simply writing tickets doesn't seem to get the message across, Horton said.

"One doesn't work without the other," he said.

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