32 drivers ticketed for passing school buses

DULUTH -- During the first eight days of Gwinnett's school year, Duluth police busted a daily average of four drivers passing stopped school buses loading or unloading students in the city, officials reported this week.

Those 32 tickets underscore the need for Duluth's "Operation Safe Stop," a program started in 2006 to heighten student safety as the school year unfolds, officials said.

No injuries have been reported, though Duluth police caught six vehicles at one time passing the same stationary bus, said Lt. Bill Stevens.

Gwinnett police launched a similar initiative this year, using motorcycle officers to follow buses on their normal routes and monitor driver behavior. Police noted that unlawful passing of a school bus notches six points against an infractor's driver's license -- the same amount as aggressive driving and speeding by 34 mph or more.

Stevens said Duluth police met with bus drivers in 2006 and had them complete a survey that gave a basis for the program. Forty-five Gwinnett bus drivers reported 137 illegal passes by vehicles on a single day in Duluth alone.

Duluth's approach has differed from the county's. Instead of assigning patrol units to follow buses, bus drivers and officers worked together to determine "hot spots", or dangerous loading/unloading stops, and officers monitor those locations at specific times.

Stevens noted that, in 2009, three metro Atlanta students were killed while unloading or loading a bus.

The effort seems to be paying off, as violations dipped late last week, Stevens said.

"I think we're seeing the fruits of our labor," he said. "We have a zero tolerance for passing stopped school buses."