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Cortland police watch for unsafe drivers near school buses

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

A Cortland city police patrol car follows a Cortland city school bus Thursday as part of Operation Safe Stop.

Early Thursday morning, 7 a.m. to be exact, Cortland Police Officer Brendan Byrnes set out on the streets in a ghost-decaled cruiser.

His job: Shadow school buses on their routes and make sure other drivers follow the rules of the road and issue tickets were needed. That was for Operation Safe Stop.

No tickets were issued during the morning bus runs, said city Lt. David Guerrera. In the afternoon, Officer Kyle Green followed buses between 3 and 5 p.m., Guerrera said, and wrote one ticket, a cellphone violation.

Sheriff’s Office Capt. Rob Derksen said the department took part in the “No Empty Chair” campaign Monday with speeding in school zones in Cincinnatus, Marathon and McGraw. Officers wrote 18 tickets between 7 and 9 a.m., Derksen said.

Operation Safe Stop is an enforcement and education campaign aimed at motorists who pass stopped school buses. Drivers who pass school buses stopped with flashing red lights are ticketed, according to a release from the governor’s office.

After about an hour of shadowing buses, Byrnes said it was going well. “I haven’t seen any violations yet.”

The program offers a new view of police, Byrnes said. “A lot of people think we’re out there to catch the criminals.”

A driver who is willing to pass a stopped bus with flashing lights is an unsafe driver and may ultimately cause harm, Byrnes said. “That hurry could put lives in danger.”

This year was the second year city police have taken part in the program, Guerrera said. Last year, the event netted two tickets.

But the goal is prevention, he said. “You need to educate people.”

Last year, 95 police agencies around the state participated in the enforcement and their combined efforts produced 859 tickets for passing stopped school buses and 1,547 tickets for other moving violations, according to the governor’s release.

“Operation Safe Stop has played a critical role in raising awareness and urging drivers to pay attention to the road and abide by the law,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “With this campaign, we can help protect the safety of our children and remind motorists that they must remain vigilant while driving around school buses.”

About 10 million drivers pass school buses nationally every year, Cuomo said., causing two-thirds of the fatalities when school buses are loading and unloading.

This year, the program was part of the weeklong “No Empty Chair” Awareness and Enforcement Campaign to raise awareness of teenage traffic safety and ensure no empty chairs at prom or graduation. Other events this week included:

• Speeding in school zones on Monday.

• Seat belt and child restraint on Tuesday.

• Cell phone use and texting on Wednesday.

• Operation safe stop Thursday.

• Underage drinking and impaired driving today.

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