WILLOUGHBY, Ohio -- The lack of a federal school bus stop safety law is driving a new White House petition. It comes just weeks after five children were killed within days of one another in crashes near bus stops across the country.
As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 4,000 people signed a WhiteHouse.gov petition pushing for federal legislation with harsh penalties for drivers who fail to stop for buses. The proposed penalties include a 90-day driver's license suspension, 30 days in jail, 12 points on a license and a mandatory $5,000 fine for a driver's first offense.
"We put 26 million students on school buses every single day. The biggest risks they face are not on the bus; they are off the bus, waiting for the bus," said spokeswoman Maureen Vogel of the National Safety Council. "We see 70 percent of serious injuries and fatalities involving school buses each year occurring to the people who are off the bus."
While student safety remains top of mind for educators not all agree a new federal stop law would change reckless driving behavior.
"It's kind of the consensus that it would not make a difference, especially when you think about why people are doing this; they're not thinking about anything let alone the law," explained Charles Murphy, the assistant superintendent at Willoughby-Eastlake Schools.
According to the The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1,282 people died in school transportation-related crashes between 2007 and 2016, an average of 128 people per year.
Since January of 2018, the Ohio State Highway Patrol says 424 school bus crashes were reported to the patrol where inspectors conducted post-crash inspections of the vehicles. The crashes include injury and non-injury crashes.
"We want drivers to start understanding those stop arms and flashing red lights are not suggestions; you absolutely must be stopping," said Vogel. "This is an issue we're seeing over and over again and like we saw a couple of weeks ago with tragic consequences."
U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Representative Steve Cohen (TN-09) introduced the School Bus Safety Act in September. The legislation would require the Department of Transportation issue rules requiring all school buses include an automatic emergency braking system, 3-point safety belts, an event data recorder, and electronic stability control system.
The bill would also create a grant program to help school districts modify school buses to meet the recommended safety changes.
As for the White House petition, more than 95,000 signatures are needed by November 30 in order to get a response from White House officials.