Careless driving a sorry excuse for school bus stop arm violations

January 14th, 2016
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Careless driving a sorry excuse for school bus stop arm violations

January 14, 2016

Seeing a 5-year-old strap on an oversized backpack and make that push-me, pull–me walk with mom or dad to the school bus stop is a major life event—for both.


For the child it is that journey into the unknown. The safety of home disappears like an outstretched hand that is just beyond the fingertips. Familiar surroundings of a grassy backyard, a sandbox, a driveway or sidewalk are replaced with new expectations, unfamiliar faces and brightly lit hallways.


For parents it is that lack of control. Not knowing if their child is sad or hurt. Trusting that another adult will watch and care for that most precious life throughout the day.

Over time, both begin to cope and even flourish.


What does not change, though, is that the start and finish to the day is still heavily dependent on the safe transport of those children to and from school.


Since the vast majority of adult drivers in this state once were students who made that trip to school and understand the variables associated with getting children on and off buses, it would seem logical to expect that safety would be of the highest concern near a school bus.


Apparently, that is not the case for many drivers.


Last April the Minnesota State Patrol studied driving habits of motorists near school buses for a full day. What troopers reported is disturbing and shocking.


In just one day, there were 613 instances where Minnesota motorists drove around or through a school bus stop-arm. And this was just one day of activity.


That means a motorist was either approaching or was behind a bus and failed to stop when a stop-arm with red flashing lights was fully extended from the side of the bus.


Keep in mind this was just one day and troopers were not studying every school bus company in the state. It was a sampling of 110 bus companies and 3,570 bus drivers.


When you consider that there are actually 10,000 school bus trips per day in Minnesota, it’s likely that the number of stop arm violations is even higher than 613 on a daily basis.


Whether you have school-age children or not this should be one of the most surprising statistics you will read this year.


Clearly there are many factors that come into play when somebody violates a school bus stop-arm. The State Patrol says weather can be a factor. Road conditions certainly play a role.


Many of the violations occurred on roadways that have two lanes of traffic in both directions, so perhaps some drivers think it’s OK to pass a school bus on the left side if the school bus is in the right lane? Nope.


All of those factors take a back seat to a growing issue on Minnesota roads: distracted driving. The State Patrol says distracted driving plays a major role in school bus stop-arm violations.


That single issue alone should be cause for greater concern for all drivers. Since 1990, nationally there have been 1,450 fatalities in school bus-related crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.


That’s about 132 annually.


Most of the school-age children killed in school bus-related crashes are pedestrians and nearly half of the school-age pedestrians killed in those crashes are from 5 to 7 years old.


Failing to fully stop for a stop-arm is a misdemeanor if the child is still in the bus, but it elevates to a gross misdemeanor if the child is outside the bus. On the low end that means a driver would face a minimum $300 fine.


More importantly, however, is what might happen if the distracted driver of a 3,500-pound car comes in contact with a 50-pound 7-year-old. It can be life ending for one and life changing for the other.


If the number of violations surprises you, it’s not a situation unique to Minnesota. That same one-day study was conducted throughout the U.S. In the state of Washington, 1,207 people drove through school bus stop-arms on that day. In Indiana, 3,008 violations occurred. In Florida, take a deep breath, nearly 12,000 violations were reported.


At least one Minnesota state representative says he’s seen enough. District 18 Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City) introduced a bill last session that would have increased the penalty on the first offense to $500 and also require a driver to complete a driving safety course. “I also would make it tougher for a violator to plea down the charge,” Urdahl said recently.


As a former teacher, he said he knows just how dangerous it can be for kids getting on and off buses and the last variable needed in that already dangerous moment is to have inattentive drivers blasting through stop-arms.


Urdahl said he plans to introduce the bill again this year, earlier in the session, and hopes it will gain approval from his fellow legislators.


For the sake of thousands of Minnesota children who step on and off school buses everyday, let’s hope more effective legislation is passed and drivers wake up.


By Keith Anderson,