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Police target drivers who pass stopped school buses

Vehicles pass stopped school buses more than 70,000 times a day, though it's illegal in all 50 states. Jeff Rossen rides along with police.
/ Source: TODAY

On April 24, a speeding SUV nearly hit several elementary school students as they were about to board a school bus in Graham, Washington. According to the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Information Services, vehicles pass stopped school buses more than 70,000 times a day, even though passing one with its lights flashing is illegal in all 50 states.

The Department of Transportation says that 23 million children ride a school bus every day. Now police are using new technology to catch drivers who threaten their safety by passing stopped school buses.

Michael Burgess, an 11-year-old student at West Lake Middle School in Apex, North Carolina, was getting onto his school bus early on the foggy morning of Sept. 30, 2014, when a car slammed into him. "All I remember was seeing a car and I was so scared, and then I just knew the car was going to hit me," he recalled.

Michael spent days in the hospital in a body cast with multiple breaks and fractures. "I felt pretty lucky that I'm alive now because I thought I'd die, because the car was going really fast," he said. The driver received a ticket for passing a stopped school bus and failing to reduce speed.

In 2014, the Rossen Reports team followed a school bus with the Broward County Sheriff's Department in Florida. When the bus stopped, five cars flew by, even though the bus had its stop sign out and red lights flashing.

Deputy Sam Pagano couldn't even get all the violators, but he did stop two. One said he didn't see the bus; the other said she saw it too late to stop. Both were slapped with $270 tickets.

"To me, they're not paying attention or they don't see it," Pagano said. "We're talking about lives, children that could be hit."

The problem has gotten so bad that school districts across the country are installing new technology on school buses: little cameras that activate when the bus stops. Like traffic signal cameras, they capture the license plate numbers of any cars that fly by. Violators are sent tickets in the mail, with fines ranging from $100 all the way up to $1,000.

"There's no room for error in this," Pagano said. "You're talking about the life of a child."

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