PARMA, Ohio — A Parma City Council member is pushing for tougher penalties for drivers who don't stop for stopped school buses.
Kristin Saban, Parma City Council Ward 4, introduced the legislation this week, joined by two other council members. Instead of the penalties prescribed by state law, which include a fine of up to $500 and potential license suspension, Saban's proposal would increase the fine to $750 and introduce the possibility of up to 90 days in jail.
Parma's efforts to toughen penalties come just a month after Avon Lake passed a similar law. The city of Mayfield Heights is also considering similar legislation.
In May, two children were hit by a driver who passed a stopped school bus in Willowick. One of them was Mason, Dawn Alberts's son.
"It’s the worst call I have ever received in my life," Alberts said.
The call, she said, made her stomach churn.
"I couldn’t even think," Alberts said. "I ran out of the office and rushed to the hospital."
Alberts said Mason, who is now eight years old, is doing much better than he was after the accident.
"He’s doing great," Alberts said. "He’s able to walk on both of his legs without any trouble with his leg anymore."
Accidents like the one that injured Mason, and fear that it could happen to other children, have Kristin Saban ready for change.
"As a mother, it’s heartbreaking because it’s an accident that could have been avoided," Saban said.
She urged drivers to stop when the stop sign on the bus is out to let children cross.
"Those accidents are absolutely avoidable," Saban said. "I would hate for any parent in the Parma City School district to get that phone call that their child was hurt or, even worse, killed by an accident."
Saban said her 13-year-old son, a middle school student, catches the bus a couple blocks from their home and that she's seen cars pass school buses in her own neighborhood.
"I was appalled," Saban said of one particular incident. "I could not believe [it]. It was one of those moments where, 'Am I actually witnessing this?' And I had to say to my son, 'Stop.'"
Angelo Caputo, transportation director for Parma City Schools, said drivers not stopping for stopped school buses "is something that we see every day."
Despite flashing lights and stop signs on the buses, Caputo said people don't always slow down or stop.
"The penalties have never been stiff enough," Caputo said. "So as soon as people start actually getting smacked with this, then instead of speeding up for that school bus when the amber lights come on, they’ll be slowing down to stop."
Although changes to the law don't change what happened to Dawn Alberts' son, she thinks seeing cities consider stiffer penalties is a step in the right direction.
"I give kudos to the city of Parma," Alberts said. "I think that every city should be looking into this."
According to Saban, Parma City Council is expected to talk about the proposed legislation again in early October before voting on it later that month. She said other council members have been supportive.