According to Emery School District Transportation Supervisor Roger Swenson, the district has 37 bus routes and 18 route drivers. In addition, there are 10 relief drivers who fill in when the need arises. At the beginning and end of any given school day, district buses are making their runs throughout the county while logging hundreds of miles. However, school buses, despite their runs, stops, routes, pick-ups and drop-offs, are greatly outnumbered by the number of vehicles with which they share the roads.
Therein lies the safety risk.
Of primary concern, according to Supervisor Swenson, are the drivers who ignore school bus flashing red lights and extended-arm stop signs. Children are in an especially vulnerable state when they exit a bus stopped on a roadway and need to cross to the left side of the highway. “If a bus is stopped, drivers need to be extra cautious,” Mr. Swenson said. “The public doesn’t always understand what to do. When a bus’s flashing yellow lights come on, slow down, and when the red lights come on and the STOP sign is extended, STOP.”
The School Bus Safety Company notes that in the past 10 years, there have been 87 “danger zone” fatalities involving students in the United States. Fifty-three percent of those killed (46) were crossing the street after departing a bus. Eighteen (20 percent) were in front of the bus while the remaining fatalities came by the side of the bus, running after the bus, dragging by draw cords, or other means.
Although a student in the Emery School District has never been harmed by a motorist ignoring these laws, Mr. Swenson said there are weekly occurrences where it happens, resulting in a number of close calls. When such violations occur, the bus driver will write down a summary of the incident, including the license plate identification of the offending vehicle. That information is radioed to the transportation office where it is then reported to local law enforcement. An Emery County Sheriff’s Deputy will meet with the driver at the end of the route to get a full report. The report goes to the county attorney who determines the specific violation.
In Utah, failure to stop for a bus showing flashing red lights and extended stop sign is a Class C misdemeanor with a fine of $100 for the first offense; a second offense within a 3-year period or a previous conviction or bail forfeiture is a fine is $200; and a third offense within a 3-year period of a previous conviction or bail forfeiture is $500. Compensatory service may substitute fines.
“Our local law enforcement agency has been great to work with,” the supervisor said, not only in following up with incidents but in also being a presence near bus stops and pickup zones throughout the county. While the number of drivers cited for breaking laws associated with school bus infractions has been about a dozen a year in the Emery District, officials see that number increasing. “People are always in such a hurry to get where they are going that they are jeopardizing lives,” Mr. Swenson said, adding, “These laws are not only for the safety of our kids, but for the public as well.”
The Utah Department of Transportation offers these reminders regarding sharing the road with a school
bus: First of all, slow down. Watch for children and know that they can come from all directions, especially if they're running late. Yellow flashing lights mean the bus is preparing to stop to load or unload children. Drivers should slow down and prepare to stop. Red flashing lights and extended arms mean the bus has stopped and that children are getting on or off. Drivers must sop and wiat until the red lights stop flashing, the extended arms are withdrawn, and the bus begins moving again before they can continue driving.
When do drivers have to stop for a school bus with flashing red lights and stop arms?
On a two-lane road when approaching from the front or rear of the bus
On a road with three or more lanes, with no median or physical barrier (i.e. just a double yellow line) when approaching from front or rear of the bus
On a road with five or more lanes and a center turn lane when approaching from the rear of the bus (drivers approaching from the front of the bus may proceed)
In addition to district drivers going through extensive safety training themselves, these drivers also train their passengers. “Drivers explain the safety rules to kids,” Mr. Swenson said. “We have also made presentations at schools and have shown safety videos to the students.” In the Emery District, buses purchased after 2006 have surveillance cameras with sound and color video which help drivers and supervisors assess safety concerns and investigate rules violations. Although district buses are not equipped with outside cameras, doing so is under consideration. Such cameras would provide valuable information to law enforcement when it comes to school bus stop sign violations.
For more information on this topic, contact Supervisor Swenson at the Emery School District Transportation Office in Castle Dale, 381-2611.