GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — This week, law enforcement agencies across Michigan are increasing their patrols to find drivers who illegally pass school buses.

Drivers ignoring a school bus’s stop lights is a situation Otsego resident Lee Garcia knows all too well. In March, a dashcam video caught the moment his daughter attempted to cross 108th Avenue to catch a bus to school when a driver completely ignored the bus’s stop signals.

“She looked over and just stopped and she said, ‘Dad, I don’t know what happened because usually I just freeze, but she said something just pushed me back.’ I was like, ‘That was God,'” Garcia said as he explained the incident.

Luckily, Garcia’s daughter was safe, but others aren’t always so fortunate.

“You have little lives, they’re just trying to go to school, innocent kids,” Garcia said.

According to the Michigan State Criminal Justice Information Center, in 2022 there were 1,041 crashes involving school buses in the state. That’s a 33% increase compared to 2021 when there were 785 crashes.

Sgt. Eric Brunner with the Kent County Sheriff’s Office said a number of factors have led to people not driving safely near buses.

“It could be a distracted driver, someone who is not paying attention, they might be on their phone and other times it’s people who are in a hurry and they feel as though they don’t need to wait for that bus,” Brunner said.

This week, Michigan law enforcement agencies are increasing their patrols for Operation Safe Stop, a five-day initiative promoting school bus safety. Brunner said the primary focus is awareness.

“We do want to educate the public, there are new drivers out on the road and very experienced drivers on the road,” Brunner said.

The sheriff’s office released a graphic illustrating how to properly drive near school buses.

Courtesy Kent County Sheriff's Office.
Courtesy Kent County Sheriff’s Office.

Brunner said typically in Kent County, school resource officers send out warnings when a driver ignores a school bus stop light, but that’s not always the case and the violation could be costly.

“Just by video evidence alone on a school bus we can issue a citation to the registered owner of the vehicle,” Brunner said.

If you pass a school bus that has its stop lights showing, you could face a fine of up to $500. If you cause a death, the penalty increases to $7,500 dollars or 15 years in prison.

As of Monday afternoon, the Kent County Sheriff’s Office cited two drivers during Operation Safe Stop.