Utica, NY (WIBX) - Law enforcement officials launched "Operation Safe Stop" this morning in an effort to enforce traffic rules involving school buses transporting students. Operation Safe Stop, a program that started in Oneida County, also aims to educate motorists about the dangers of illegally passing school buses. This morning, BOCES in New Hartford was the location for an event with school bus drivers, police officers and other elected officials, to discuss the program and hear how the morning operation fared.

Oneida County District Attorney, Scott McNamara  says statewide, the statistics for these types of violations have increased 36-percent over the passed five years. He said in 2006 there were 1,053 tickets issued, and last year there were 1,440 tickets issued. "So we're seeing a drastic increase in the amount of tickets being issued for these types of violations," McNamara said.

He added that another issue many fail to recognize is the large number of school buses and students on the roadways. "There's over 50,000 school buses and 2.3 million students being transported each year to school so, this is a major issue and really the technology that we have with cell phones and such, is making it even more dangerous because we're just seeing more and more people causing accidents because they're not paying attention," he said. He added that the chance of a child surviving an accident involving a motorist illegally passing a stopped school bus is very low.

Another issue McNamara says hinders law enforcement officials in their pursuit to stop distracted drivers from causing accidents, is the current state law that prohibits them from pulling someone over for texting while driving. "I see it all the time, I'll be driving down the road and the person next to me will be texting, you can see it, it's not like you can't tell what they're doing. Right now, the police cannot stop somebody for that. They can only stop somebody for something else, and then once the vehicle stops, if they determine the person was texting while driving, they can give the ticket, but it can't be the basis of a stop ... That's ridiculous, I don't know what they were thinking when they passed that law," he said.

McNamara added that lawmakers in Albany voted to approve the legislation that now supersedes the county-wide law that did allow officers to pull over a texting motorist. He said, "So they basically made their law so that our law we can't enforce anymore and our law did allow the police to stop motorists. That's something I really hope they go back and look at because it's only going to get worse." He said soon people are going to be skyping while driving if the current law doesn't change. McNamara also recounted being narrowly missed by a distracted driver while riding his bicycle last year.

Operation Safe Stop is a day long program. The penalty associated with illegally passing a stopped school bus include a minimum $250 fine with a maximum of $400, receive up to 30-days in jail, and 5-points deducted from a person's driver's licence. McNamara said,"And most of the time the insurance companies raises your rates for that kind of a violations."