STOW -- Drivers who ignore the flashing stop sign on the side of school buses will face higher fines and possible jail time for putting students at risk.

Council members passed legislation 5-1 July 9 to increase penalties against drivers who illegally pass a stopped school bus.

Council member Mario Fiocca (Ward 4) had proposed the legislation in February but it was tabled until last week. Fiocca was absent from the July 9 meeting.

The new legislation will permit violators to be fined up to a $1,000 and/or 30 days in jail. The previous law only allowed a fine up to $500.

Council member Christina Shaw (at-large) voted against the legislation because she said even the present law is difficult to enforce.

Previously, Police Chief Jeff Film said four out of 35 complaints went to court because the school bus driver must obtain an accurate license plate, fill out a form for a citation, and identify the driver.

The magistrate may not issue a fine and few jails will take misdemeanor offenders, Film said.

Council member Steve Hailer (Ward 3) said he wanted to promote school bus safety at previous meetings and supported educating the public.

"Zero children have been hit by vehicles involving school buses for the past three years, but if a child gets hit by a car, did we do enough?" Hailer said. "I don’t think this gets it done. If people aren’t obeying rules now, they won’t change."

Council member Jeremy McIntire (at-large) said drivers have not seen school buses on the road because of the pandemic.

"Passing this legislation now, ahead of the upcoming 2020-21 school year will make motorists aware that they need to use caution when approaching a stopped bus and stop when school buses have their lights flashing, even when the bus is in a school parking lot," McIntire said.

In a press release, McIntire said "this legislation sends a clear message that this is a serious offense and that the consequences of this behavior can be fatal."

When behind or approaching a school bus with flashing amber or yellow lights, drivers need to slow down and be ready to stop. The red lights and stop sign on the side of the bus means no passing. Drivers cannot pass a school bus on the left side to get around one with its stop sign showing.

In Ohio, when drivers are on a road with fewer than four lanes, all traffic approaching a stopped school bus from either direction must stop at least 10 feet from the front or rear of the bus and remain stopped until the bus begins to move or the bus driver signals motorists to proceed.

Gannett reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at lfreeman@recordpub.com