Minnesota and Wisconsin state laws require vehicles to stop for school buses when the bus driver activates the flashing lights and has the crossing arm fully extended. Drivers need to stop at least 20 feet from the bus and remain stopped until the arm is closed and the bus begins to move.
Despite this, an estimated 828 vehicles per day illegally pass school buses in Wisconsin, according to Wisconsin School Bus Association. Minnesota isn't far behind, where as part of a School Bus Stop Arm survey 3,659 bus drivers counted 703 violations in one day.
On Monday, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety released the video that shows a Rosemount sixth-grader narrowly avoiding injury and possibly death after a motorist blatantly zoomed around a stopped school bus as the girl was walking in front of the bus to reach the street. The lack of a horn and her failure to hesitate, and the story would have been tragedy instead of a warning.
As of Aug. 1, 2017, motorists who violate the Minnesota law face a $500 fine, which is up from $300. In Wisconsin, an infraction can result in a fine of $326. If Minnesota's higher penalty results in reduced stop-arm violations (there have been roughly 8,800 citations from 2011-2016 or nearly 1,480 a year, so improvement should be simple to measure), then Wisconsin should consider raising its threshold.
Why would anyone risk the life of a child rather than stop for a few minutes? For the same reasons that people text while driving, talk on the phone while driving and drive too fast.
If you figure you won't get caught zipping by a bus or you can make it before the yellow flashers turn to red, think again. Keep in mind that school bus drivers are authorized to report stop-arm violations to law enforcement and more and more buses have video cameras mounted on the dash. And remember, the vehicle owner can be held responsible even if he or she wasn't the offending driver.
The only time the stop-arm law doesn't apply to you is when you're driving on the opposite side of a roadway that is divided by a median or other physical barrier. In essence, you're considered to be on a different road.
Here are a couple tips for the road:
Motorists, slow down, pay attention and anticipate school children and buses, especially in neighborhoods and school zones. Allow a little extra travel time during school start and stop times.
Students, when getting off a bus, look to be sure no cars are attempting to pass illegally on the shoulder between you and the curb. Then wait for the bus driver to signal that it's safe to cross the road.
Obey the bus stop-arm and flashers, use a little extra care and we'll all reach our destination.