"Operation Stop" urges school bus awareness, safety
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Capt. Johnny Poulos (podium) announces "Operation Stop" launch
Ezra Wall

Getting kids safely to school is the goal of a new effort called "Operation Stop."  As MPB's Ezra Wall reports, the public is being asked to stop their vehicles when buses are loading and unloading students.

Phillip Nelson is a transportation coordinator for the Rankin County School District in central Mississippi. As a bus driver, he says he is surprised by how many motorists disregard traffic laws regarding school buses. 

"Because the bus is up higher, I have seen people go past," says Nelson. "They're on their phone and then they'll just look up at me and just give me a wave. And the stop sign's out. It's scary."

According to a national student transportation association, nearly 78-thousand motorists illegally pass school buses across the country on any given day. "Operation Stop" is a joint effort between the State Highway Patrol and the Mississippi Department of Education. Col. Chris Gillard is director of the Highway Patrol. He says the number of illegal bus passes puts students in danger.

"As you can see, there's a big need for us to do our job in law enforcement," says Gillard, "to make sure that our most prized and valuable asset gets to school and back home safe every day."

Gillard says the reasons motorists approach or pass buses illegally range from impatience to ignorance of the law to distraction from text messaging. 

A 2011 law named after the late Nathan Key requires drivers in Mississippi to stop ten feet away from a stopped school bus.  Failure to heed the law could result in a $750 fine and a suspended license.