MANATEE — Sarah Williams stood in a parking lot trying to make sense of a $271 traffic ticket last week.
“I knew I wasn’t speeding. I had my seat belt on,” said 21-year-old Sarah Williams with a hoarse voice and puffy eyes from crying.
Williams had just received a citation for passing a stopped school bus on a six-lane section of road on U.S. 41 on Friday afternoon.
She was one of 59 people who were cited last week as Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Traffic Unit deputies increased traffic enforcement at school bus stops to create awareness during National School Bus Safety Week. All of the bus stops were recorded on video to document violators.
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On Friday, the bus was in the far right southbound lane and Williams was in a black car heading north in the far right lane.
“I was on the complete opposite side of the school bus. I didn’t know I had to stop,” she told Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Traffic Deputy Brent Smith.
Many of the deputies have been told by people they didn’t realize they are supposed to stop if traveling in the opposite direction.
Smith explained drivers do not have to stop for school buses at stops if there is a raised median, unpaved section of at least five feet or some other form of barrier, according to Florida law.
In the 5100 block of U.S. 41 there are no medians. And a Manatee County School bus regularly drops children off at Wayside Glen Mobile Home Park. None of those children normally cross U.S. 41 after immediately exiting the bus.
Williams questioned how she could monitor other drivers in the same direction of travel much less drivers in the opposite lanes.
“How am I supposed to be a defensive driver?” she asked.
Williams and other motorists pulled over told deputies they never saw the bus.
“It’s not that we’re out here trying to be mean, but we get complaints from bus drivers,” Smith replied. “You have to remember, you’re driving a 2-ton missile with gasoline. As a driver, it’s your responsibility for every thing you’re doing.”
On Friday afternoon where Williams was pulled over, about 10 others received citations.
From 2004 to 2007, there were a total of 20 children killed by a passing motorist at bus stops nationwide, according to a study conducted by the School Bus Safety Unit at the Kansas Department of Education.
The study showed a majority of fatalities occurred when children were going home from school.
The stings, which took place in different areas throughout the county, will hopefully raise awareness about the law, Smith said.
“If I have to irritate people to get the word out to make sure people stop for buses to protect kids, then so be it,” he said.
For some motorists like Williams, though, it’s a tough lesson to learn.
Williams, who said she is a single mother and student, said the ticket is a financial hardship.
“I’m going to lose my apartment,” she said with fresh tears welling up in her eyes.
“I can’t pay this in 30 days.”
Beth Burger, Herald criminal justice reporter, can be reached at 708-7919.