POCATELLO – Fewer people seem to be slowing down and stopping for buses this school year.
Samantha Steed, training supervisor for Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25, said that the district has seen an uptick in people breaking the laws around school buses for the last four to five years.
“We have a lot of distracted drivers out there that just don’t heed those warning signs,” Steed said.
Misty Berger, the school bus driver trainer for Fremont Joint School District 215, said that this year has been “exceptionally bad” for people driving past school buses and running the stop sign when it’s extended.
Berger said that every week, her district has more than 20 violators of this law.
“I don’t know if it’s the year (but) this year has been really bad. We’ve had several close calls,” Berger said.
Berger said that this year, they’ve even had a student get hit with a vehicle at a bus stop. She said that while the student ended up OK, they’ve had more and more close calls.
Both Berger and Steed said that when the amber or yellow lights of a school bus begin to flash, the bus driver is signaling that it’s going to be stopping within 200 feet to 250 feet. Once the bus stops, it will extend a stop sign, and those drivers who have already been slowing down come to a complete stop, either if they’re driving behind the bus or driving past it.
The only time when it’s legal for a driver to go past the stopped bus is if there are four lanes or more with a center median. In that case, all vehicles traveling behind the bus would have to come to a complete stop, but those going in the opposing direction wouldn’t.
Drivers can only begin moving once the bus closes its stop sign and it starts moving.
“Slow down, stop, wait until that bus has completely unloaded students while the stop arm is activated,” Steed said. “And then don’t move your vehicle until after that bus has pulled the stop arm back in, the red flashing lights have deactivated, and everybody then is safe and ready to move.”
Drivers who are caught running the school buses stop sign face a misdemeanor charge. They could receive a fine of $200 for the first offense, up to $400 for the second offense and up to $600 for the third.
But regardless of the legal ramifications, Steed said there could be deadly consequences if someone violates this law.
“You put students at risk, and you can’t put a price tag on a life,” Steed said.
Berger said she wants people to be educated about the laws surrounding school buses and understand why they exist.
“We’re not just stopping to wreck their day. There are kids coming on and off the bus,” Berger said.
Berger said that they train the children to pay attention to their surroundings, but they’re still learning, and they don’t always understand what could happen if they run into the road.
“A lot of them will still run if they drop their homework. I’ve seen several little headbands or something blow off, and they’ll run out in front of the bus or in front of oncoming traffic,” Berger said. “There’s a child, it’s somebody’s life.”