The adults riding a school bus roaming around Moscow's main city streets this week were not headed to school.
They were law enforcement officers searching for drivers committing traffic violations. They placed a special emphasis on catching drivers who were texting and driving, which is illegal in Idaho.
Members of the Moscow Police Department, Idaho State Police and Latah County Sheriff's Department rode a school bus from 3-8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, armed with a video camera, radio and observation form.
MPD Chief James Fry said 60 total traffic stops were made between 3-8 p.m Tuesday.
When a driver was witnessed committing a traffic violation, an officer radioed to a patrol car in the area, and a stop would be made. The officers on the bus used a video camera to record violations.
ISP Sgt. Rich Adamson said he got the idea of officers riding a bus from a national highway safety summit earlier this year in Long Beach, Calif., and he proposed the tactic to the MPD.
Officers were directed to hand out Idaho Transportation Department brochures on aggressive driving and distracted driving to drivers who were pulled over for such violations. According to the brochures, sending or receiving a text takes a driver's eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. If a driver is traveling 55 mph, he or she will essentially be driving blind for the length of a football field.
Adamson said being on a bus is an advantage for officers, as they are sitting higher up than the average vehicle and can look down and identify what drivers are doing easier than if they were in a marked patrol car.
Plus, Adamson said, anytime a driver sees a marked patrol car, he or she typically gets off the cellphone, puts a seatbelt on and drives accordingly to avoid a citation.
ISP Cpl. Travis Hight, a 9-year veteran with the agency, said it is tough to cite a driver for texting for a few reasons, including that the law is poorly worded. Hight said the law says a driver cannot text, which includes reading, typing or sending messages, while on the road. However, a driver could be looking at his or her phone and selecting music, for example, which would not violate the texting law. In that scenario, the driver could be cited for inattentive driving if warranted.
Hight said ISP officers are usually on highways and traveling at higher rates of speed than officers do in the city, which makes it difficult to identify drivers who are texting.
The officers on the school bus stuck to the popular streets in Moscow, including Main, Washington and Jackson streets and West Pullman Road.
Fry said the agencies will continue to do safety-related emphasis patrols this year. He mentioned focusing on drivers who do not yield at crosswalks as an emphasis possibility.
Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.