Ask nearly any American adult about ill-advised driving decisions around school buses and most will probably say they’ve seen at least one or two unsafe moves in their lifetime.
Ask any Newton Community School District bus driver how often they see dangerous moves by drivers at a bus stop, and they’ll likely recall a very recent occurrence.
Iowa law requires all motorists to come to a complete stop whenever a bus’s red lights are flashing and the stop arm is extended, but Newton bus drivers told the Newton Daily News many drivers don’t follow the protocol. The NCSD transportation has a form called a “school and bus warning devices violation report,” and 21 of those forms have been completed since Jan. 1.
The forms are turned in to the Newton Police Department, and 14 of those violations have resulted in motorists being cited. John Heck, who is in his third year of driving for Newton Schools, said many drivers either are driving too fast for a road and its conditions, or treat the bus’s amber-colored warning slow-down lights as a challenge to get past a bus.
Iowa law requires drivers to not only stop immediately when seeing flashing red lights on a two- or three-lane road, but also to slow vehicles to 20 mph and be prepared to stop when the amber-colored lights begin flashing. Motorists are not permitted to pass when any color of school bus lights are flashing.
“Most people follow the rules,” Heck said. “But those few that don’t really scare us drivers. We’re responsible for these children, and they don’t always look before running out into harm’s way.”
Heck said by the time students get to about the fifth grade, looking both ways before crossing a street becomes automatic. However, groups of students of any age, who aren’t crossing a street or moving, might still accidentally wander into a roadway, even before a bus’s lights are flashing.
Among the 21 violations documented, eight were for violations around buses transporting some type of special-needs Newton students. These buses tend to have the stop-arm extended for a longer period of time than most other general-route buses — testing the patience of drivers more. However, bus driver Diane Danmeier said sees drivers who don’t seem to have patience for a regular bus’s stops.
“A lot of stops only take about 30 seconds,” Danmeier said. “But people seem to have to keep moving so quickly. They just have to go — they can’t wait.”
Curt Roorda is the supervisor of transportation for Newton Schools. He said while drivers certainly see drivers intentionally trying to move faster after seeing flashing bus lights, he said a major issue is drivers simply not noticing lights at all.
“Most drivers do comment on how ‘people just do not pay attention when they see a bus,’” Roorda said. “I think that the drivers feel like that other motorists just look at a bus as another vehicle on the road.”
Fortunately, tragic accidents involving children boarding or disembarking from school buses are rare in Iowa. In the 2002-2011 period used for a recent Iowa Department of Transportation study, there were 29 child pedestrians killed on Iowa roads, but only two involved a school bus, and only one involved a stop-arm violation.
Getting law enforcement involved is not always easy. A section of Iowa Code known as “Kadyn’s Law,” passed in 2012, requires bus cameras to record activity, but police and sheriff’s departments need to have clear identification of vehicles in order to issue citations.
Often, violators are moving much too fast for a bus driver to note a complete license plate number — especially while trying to safely manage young, energetic riders at the same time. There were 733 convictions in Iowa in 2013 for failure to stop for a school bus, but only 12 in Jasper County. Polk County, for comparison, had 97 in that year.
Jasper County only had three convictions for that violation in 2010.
Newton High School Resource Officer Brian Foster said the number of violations reported to NPD has gone up within the past several weeks. He said aside from knowing that vehicles are required to stop for flashing school-bus lights, not being distracted while at the wheel is an important factor in safety around buses.
“Texting or talking on a phone is a good way to miss out on school bus lights, or any other changing road condition,” Foster said. “Operating a vehicle is a huge responsibility.”
Newton Police Lt. Wes Breckenridge said knowledge of traffic laws is crucial. He encourages the public to view a link to learn more about school bus stop laws. http://www.iowadot.gov/schoolbus/requiredstopping.html
“We want the motoring public to be aware of the rules related to school bus stops,” Breckenridge said, “And help us in keeping our children safe.”
Contact Jason W. Brooks at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or firstname.lastname@example.org