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Police, school officials warn drivers to stop for school buses

MADAWASKA, Maine — Local police met with Madawaska school officials Friday to issue a public service announcement to alert drivers about stopping for school buses when their lights are on.

School bus drivers have filed a total of five reports since school started — two on Thursday alone — about motorists driving past them when the bus was stopped with its stop sign extended and red lights flashing as it was dropping off or picking up students.

One of the reports included footage from a camera mounted on the bus that involved a car proceeding from a flashing stop light already permanently in place, and then rolling through the flashing lights on the bus. Seconds later, a little girl crossed the street.

The little girl was having trouble with her lunchbox, otherwise she would have already been in the street, according to Lisa Beaulieu, the transportation scheduler for the Madawaska School Department.

“Drivers should be paying attention all the time,” Beaulieu said Friday. “It’s hard to miss a big yellow school bus with red flashing lights.”

Madawaska Police Lt. Jamie Pelletier, who also serves as the school resource officer for the Madawaska School Department, said that school officials and police “hope that a proactive community-related approach will help the situation and we will not have to resort to more aggressive, reactive enforcement.”

Sgt. Matt Derosier said one of the ways community members can help eradicate the problem would be to speak up.

“If a member of the public sees it, they should report it as well,” he said.

According to school and law enforcement officials, in the last three years, only two such incidents had been reported. In the last 41 days that school has been in session, however, there have been 5 reported cases of drivers passing a bus with flashing lights.

Aside from requiring parents of younger students to be present at the bus stops, and not allowing students to cross Main Street, officials have installed front facing cameras on two of the four buses in service.

“It’s no longer going to be a, ‘he said, she said’ situation, we now have camera footage of your car and license plate,” said Madawaska Middle High School Principal Wayne Anderson. “So it’s going to be cut and dry.”

From the time school buses turn on their amber flashing lights, until they stop and engage their red stop lights, the bus will have traveled a maximum of 100 feet. The amber lights alerts drivers that the bus is about to stop and motorists should not be speeding up, but stopping when they see them, Anderson said.

One hundred feet is “not very far,” he said.

During the meeting, Anderson reiterated the purpose of the public service announcement was not to scare, threaten, or entrap drivers, but to ensure the safety of the Valley’s youth.

“It is not about trying to penalize the public, but we’re trying to inform the public to keep the kids safe,” he said. “We don’t want the kids to get hurt.”

Of the five cases so far this year, two adult drivers have been summoned. Police can’t discuss two cases involving juvenile motorists and an incident involving another adult driver is under investigation.

If a driver rolling past a stopped school bus with flashing red lights on can be identified, he faces a minimum fine of $250 for the first offense and a 30-day license suspension for the second offense. If the driver cannot be identified, but the vehicle can, the owner faces a fine of $326.

“Whether there’s one kid getting off or ten kids getting off, [drivers] should be stopping,” Beaulieu said.

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