By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

In the last six months, over 175 drivers were issued tickets for passing stopped school buses in Montclair. Half of those violations were issued to Montclair residents, according to law enforcement.

In November, the Montclair Police Department announced it would be stepping up patrols around school bus routes during morning bus runs. Officers followed buses in both unmarked and marked cars, looking for drivers who illegally passed a stopped bus. Drivers who vilated the law received tickets instead of a warning, as the MPD was taking a zero-tolerance approach to traffic violations around school buses.

Since Nov. 1, officers have issued a total of 175 tickets, police announced on May 23. The penalty for illegally passing a school bus includes a $250 fine and a court appearance.

“We do realize this is a very serious problem and will continue with enforcement until the end of the school year,” said Lt. Stephanie Egnezzo, who directs the MPD’s Traffic Bureau.

Egnezzo said most of the 175 summonses were issued along bus routes on Grove Street.

Last year, following citizen and parent complaints about motorist-bus infractions, Ofc. John Bossolt initiated the sting initiative. Bossolt and officers followed school buses along their routes in the morning, stopping and issuing summonses to motorists who passed stopped school buses or made any turning movement within 25 feet of a stopped school bus. The zero-tolerance policy was then set in November.

Under New Jersey state law, when a school bus flashes its red lights on and extends its stop sign, drivers behind the bus or traveling in the opposite direction of the bus must stop at least 25 feet away. Drivers must then remain stopped until the bus has retracted its stop sign and turned off its red lights.

When a bus is stopped in front of a school to let children on and off, drivers may pass at no more than 10 miles per hour. Additionally, if the bus is on the other side of a divided highway, drivers in the opposite lane may pass, but at no faster than 10 miles per hour.

For years, school bus drivers have raised concerns about aggressive drivers, said Superintendent Kendra Johnson. District officials are particularly concerned about traffic on Valley Road and Grove Street, she added.

In August, the department plans to step up the School Bus Safety public awareness campaign throughout the township, working with the state Department of Transportation and AAA. Educational events will begin in August, and run through School Bus Safety week, Oct. 21-25.  Anyone with specific problem areas regarding the school bus safety initiative can call the Montclair Police Traffic Bureau at 973-509-4738.