Officials raising awareness of school bus law; may seek changes to make it easier to enforce

Alarmed by the number of motorists who drive by stopped school buses that are displaying flashing red lights and have extended the mechanical stop arm, officials are trying to raise awareness of the law and are considering changes in the law to make it easier to enforce.

“School bus safety should be a top priority year-round,” said Keith Dreiling, director of the Kansas State Department of Education’s School Bus Safety Unit. “It is the responsibility of everyone to make sure Kansas students remain safe. School buses remain very safe, but we know that student passengers are most vulnerable when they are outside the bus, so please obey the stop arm law.”

When a school bus stops and activates its stop arm and flashing red lights, all traffic must stop from both directions – whether it is a two- or four-lane road. When a school bus stops and activates its stop arm and flashing red lights on a divided highway with a median separation, traffic approaching the bus from behind must stop. In all cases, stopped motorists must remain stopped until the bus no longer displays its flashing red lights and stop arm.

The law is frequently violated.

On April 17, Kansas bus drivers reported 1,040 stop arm violations. The data was collected during the Kansas One-Day Stop Arm Violation Count. There were 220 districts and 3,300 buses that participated in this year’s Kansas survey. In April 2018, 214 districts and 3,347 buses participated and reported 1,030 violations. In April 2017, 188 districts and 2,257 buses participated and there were 691 violations reported.

Some of those violations included drivers who passed buses on the right while students were getting on or off, officials said.

KSDE has launched a “Stop on Red, Kids Ahead” public awareness campaign, which includes news releases, social media reminders, posters for schools, safety flyers, informational handouts and bumper stickers.

And state officials may seek a change in the state law when the 2020 legislative session starts in January.

A School Bus Stop Arm Committee, composed of officials representing education, law enforcement, transportation and state legislators, has recommended that the enforcement of the stop arm law be changed.

Currently, a violation of the law is punishable by a fine and court costs in excess of $420.

But the law cannot be enforced unless a law enforcement official actually sees someone violating the law, according to State Board of Education member Jim Porter, who served on the committee.

Porter told the State Board of Education earlier this week that legislation will be proposed to make the offense a civil penalty of $250 and allow law enforcement to use evidence captured on bus video cameras to assess penalties of violators.

“The purpose of the fine is to change behavior,” Porter said. He said bus drivers have reported numerous close calls of children being hit by a vehicle. “The probability of there being a tragedy if we don’t do something is relatively high,” he said.

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