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Back to school means back to school bus safety

Sept. 9, 2019

 A bus and vehicles stopped on a roadway. Red zones mark the 20 foot distance from the front and rear of the bus

Here’s an interesting fact: Children are safer in a school bus than in any other vehicle. Which is good, because school buses in Minnesota make about 10,000 trips a day. It’s nice to know we don’t have to worry too much about them when they’re on the bus.

It’s the transition on or off the bus that has had parents worried for as long as there have been school buses. That’s of course why school bus stop arms were invented – and yet, tragically, sometimes they still don’t keep children safe. They can’t unless drivers obey them.

You probably know that if you don’t stop for a school bus when the driver activates the flashing lights and has the stop arm fully extended, you’re breaking the law. But it continues to happen: Over the past five years, law enforcement across the state have written more than 6,500 stop-arm violations. The lightest penalty is a $500 fine, but if you pass a school bus on the right, pass when a child is outside the bus, or injure or kill a child, you face elevated charges.

If you’re wondering how those stop-arm violators were found, remember that many school buses are equipped with video cameras. That way, if a motorist keeps going despite the stop-arm being activated, their vehicle can be identified and the driver can be prosecuted for the violation.

And even though stopping when you see the stop arm go out is pretty common sense, you might want to know some details, such as when and where to stop:

  • Stop at least 20 feet from the bus, whether you’re behind it or approaching it from the opposite direction.
  • This is true for two-lane roads and two-lane roads with a turning lane in the middle.
  • It’s also true for four-lane roads, unless there’s a median or concrete barrier in the middle.

And even if you see that the child is safely on the sidewalk, stay put until the bus driver turns off the flashing lights and retracts the stop arm. They’re the ones who should determine whether it’s safe to drive again.

So that you’re not taken by surprise, be sure to slow down in neighborhoods and school zones, especially in the morning and mid-afternoon. Always pay careful attention to your surroundings – that means putting distractions away. This video will show you ways to keep from violating stop-arm laws, and will show you what happens when people don’t obey them.

With some attention and education, we can work together to make sure that children are just as safe off the school bus as they are when they’re on it.