By Cathi Arora

If a school bus’ lights are flashing and the stop arm is engaged, don’t even think about passing. It’s dangerous. It’s against the law. You will be ticketed.

That’s the message Sandy Springs police say they plan to deliver through an aggressive new program to put an end to this common offense.

Officers will monitor bus stops and write tickets for motorists who illegally pass school buses.

“We plan to educate through enforcement,” said Sgt. R.D. Nable, Sandy Springs Traffic Unit Supervisor.

“We wanted to start the wheels in motion now to get our feet wet and see what works and what doesn’t so that in the fall we’ll have a polished program ready to go,” Sandy Springs Lt. Steve Rose said in an email. “It’s more or less the litmus test to get ready for the fall. If we like what we see at the end of the school year, we’ll pick it back up the first week or even month of the new school year.”

The department also wants to secure agreements with Fulton County school officials so that at some point officers will be riding on the buses to witness motorists passing stopped buses and to collect offender tag information.

“We have to be sure the transportation people and the school resource staff are comfortable with what we are doing,” said Rose.

Sandy Springs resident and Dunwoody High School teacher Rae Colley recently witnessed a near miss of an elementary school child by an impatient driver passing a school bus in the early morning.

“It goes beyond me that someone would behave so recklessly around children,” said Colley. “I was shocked.”

Motorists who are caught putting children at risk pay a hefty price. Illegally passing a school bus in Sandy Springs results in six points on your license and a $500 fine.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the bus stop is the most dangerous part of the school bus ride and that most children killed in bus-related crashes are hit by a school bus or by motorists illegally passing a stopped bus.

The law states that motorists coming to a school bus from either direction must stop when the bus displays flashing warning lights and extends the stop signal arm. Drivers should not proceed until the school bus resumes motion or the visual signals are no longer actuated.

The law further states that motorists need not stop if they are on the opposite side of a divided highway. According to Nable, divided means a raised barrier over which motorists cannot drive.

Turning lanes do not constitute divided highways. Roswell Road is not divided; however, much of Abernathy is.

Nable said the areas in Sandy Springs with the most offenders include Roswell Road, Johnson Ferry between Abernathy and Riverside Drive, and Glenridge Drive between High Point and Roswell Roads.

Fulton County school board member Julia Bernath says that the school district, police and the highway department need to educate drivers about stopping for school buses.

“I think that a lot of times people are not aware of what the law is,” Bernath said. “It’s possible motorists don’t realize the stop sign pertains to both sides of the road.”