MICHIGAN CITY – In just one day last April, Michigan City Area Schools bus drivers counted 38 motorists ignoring the stop arm on their buses.
It's a problem across the state, and different agencies are taking different approaches to solve it. The legislature passed a tough new law; grants were awarded to police departments to step up enforcement; and police are increasing patrols to target violators.
And those Michigan City bus drivers and monitors decided to get the message across in a more tech-savvy way – an online video.
With apologies to Diana Ross, the group of drivers and monitors, with help from local businesses and law enforcement, created "Stop When the Arm is Out," and it seems to be a hit.
"One of our drivers, Phyllis Chambers, came to me at the end of the last school year," said Sue Harrison, MCAS transportation director. "She had written a song after the students were killed in Rochester [three siblings struck by a vehicle that ignored a school bus stop arm].
"That really shook her up so she wrote the words and brought them to me, and I decided to take it to the next level."
Over the summer, Chambers and fellow bus drivers and monitors made the video, with the help of Laidlaw Productions and Reprograhics Arts.
It features new lyrics to the Supremes' hit, "Stop in the Name of Love," with a more serious message: "Stop when the arm is out, before you hurt a child."
"They did a wonderful job and everybody was on board with it," Harrison said. "We all just wanted to get the word out."
Filming took place at the bus center, Joy Elementary, and around the city and county, Harrison said.
"I called the Michigan City Police and the La Porte County Sheriff's office and they were happy to take part," she said.
MCPD Capt. Jeff Loniewski and sheriff's deputy Andrew Hahn are featured in the video, along with drivers and monitors singing and dancing. It's "dedicated to all children injured or killed by stop arm violators," Harrison says in the voiceover narration.
"We have over 50,000 views on Facebook and more on YouTube; and over 1,400 shares," Harrison said. "I guess that's going viral. Channels 5, 7 and 9 out of Chicago, and the South Bend TV stations featured us, and even a station in Indy came up."
Unfortunately, she said with a laugh, "We don't get any royalties, but Adam Wood at Laidlaw Productions gave us a nice break on the production."
It's a slightly silly, but effective way to get across a serious message, she said.
"Drivers ignoring stop arms has been a problem as long as I've been in Michigan City – 7 1/2 years. It's bad all over town but certain roads are worse.
"On Franklin Street, it happens all the time; and on U.S. 20, when we have to drop kids off, it's every day. Those two are the worst, but it happens all over, even in residential neighborhoods anywhere in town. People just totally ignore us."
Luckily, she said, "We've never had a student injured here, though there have been some close calls. We just wanted to make drivers aware and spread the word about safety and the new law. Our drivers are aware of the problem and always make sure the kids cross the street safely."
And she thinks it's working.
"With the new law, and all of the publicity, and the video – it all helps – I think the public is becoming more aware," Harrison said.
"We've only been back a couple of days but the drivers said Friday that people seem more aware, and they have not seen as many problems. Of course the police are out all over the place so that helps, too."
ROLL THE CREDITS
A glance at "Stop When the Arm is Out" video, an MCAS production.
Lyrics: Phyllis Chambers
"Stop Arm Singers": Shaunda Batta, Phyllis Chambers, Mike Sherrod, Mary Walton, Chevy Woodard
Chorus: Leslie Bardusk, Harriet Blake, Kelley Coffey, Kevin Ann Cooper, Joy Cotton, Jeannette Gaines, Maryann Garon, Abraham Gomez, Dawn Gomez, Jackie Grayam, Michelle Harvill, Missy Hayner, Shirley Hebb, Dee Kluge, Mary Liggins, Billie Jean Morlan, Michelle Nichols Broad, Tricia Parrish, Tanya Robinson, Sue Waskow, John Wolf, Dee Wilusz
Narration: Sue Harrison
Starring: Michigan City Police Capt. Jeff Loniewski, La Porte County Sheriff's Deputy Andrew Hahn
Video supporters: Dave Hack, Sue Bishop, Jill Lomax, Val Skwiat
Stage crew: George Kazmierczak, Kevin Flowers, Dave Lohraff, Ruthelma Leslie, Trisha Manns, Beth Ohms, Marcy Ransky
The pros: LaidlawProductions; Reprograhic Arts, Inc.