|Motorists lax about bus stop law Gering police say seven warnings issued this school year|
|December 18, 2015 Frank Marquez|
Photo by Lisa Betz/Gering Citizen A father meets his son after being dropped off after school on East Overland across the street from Eastwood Apartments in Scottsbluff. The stop is one of several in the Twin Cities where motorists have persistently ignored stopping for school buses, according to bus drivers.
What’s a parent’s worst nightmare?
One possible scenario is hearing about their son or daughter being hurt or killed. Even worse is hearing how injury or death could have been prevented.
This school year, there have been seven warnings issued to motorists bypassing stopped school buses. Those reports were made by other motorists and bus drivers, according to Gering Police Chief George Holthus. Despite the warnings, no citations have been issued. In order to deter violators, School Resources Officer Henry Moreno has been intermittently following school buses to ensure students’ safety.
Students who get on and off buses are often unaware of approaching vehicles because they expect them to be stopped. Aside from risking the lives of students, motorists who fail to stop for a school bus should be aware of the consequences for breaking Nebraska law. If motorists are convicted, they will be punished with a $500 fine, and lose three points off their driver’s license.
“Though we haven’t had any students killed here, it has happened in other parts of the state. We don’t want it to happen here,” said Patricia Dooley, location manager for First Student Transportation, which serves the area’s public schools.
Dooley said there are “three to five bus stop sign violations a week (in the Gering-Scottsbluff area). Every time we see a violation, we report with a full description of the vehicle and license plate to the local police. We have cameras on the arms that drop down to stop traffic.”
Holthus added, “When a bus is stopped, young kids are going in a variety of directions. Our concern is for the safety of young people. We have had some reports that drivers were not following the law, but they should know if we observe it, they will be ticketed. Many times, we get calls after the fact. If we don’t observe the violation, and are unable to ticket them, we contact the registered owner, knowing they may not always be the one driving the vehicle, to make them aware of the law.”
As a rule, bus drivers start to flash their lights 300 feet from the stop. The yellow flashers tell motorists to slow down. When motorists see flashing yellow lights as they approach school buses, they are required to decrease their speed to 25 mph and be prepared to stop. When the bus comes to a complete stop, the lights change to red, and the stop arm comes down. That’s when motorists must come to a complete stop. The bus is usually stopped for 1-3 minutes.
Dooley added, “Children are often unaware of their surroundings when they’re getting off the buses. They may not know it’s slippery, and they’re not always paying attention to traffic. We carry pre-school and special needs kids. Sometimes people get impatient. If a driver changes his habits or routine, they could avoid having to make a stop at all.”
First Student bus driver Steven Gonzales, whose route is along Highway 71, said he has seen an average of three to four motorists a month pass his bus. Gonzales, who has been a driver for three years, carries kindergartners through sixth graders for Geil Elementary. Many of the students live on the outskirts of Gering and Terrytown.
“Actually, there was a stop-arm violation this school year about three and four weeks ago, but sometimes, there are so many,” Gonzales said.
During a routine stop one morning near the antique store going north on Five Rocks Road, he said, “A vehicle coming south went right past me, maybe trying to beat the stop arm that comes down. I honked the horn, too. They’re just in a hurry, or maybe they just don’t think about it. The car barely missed hitting a father and his daughter.”
Dooley said First Student travels a total of 21 routes, not including the activity buses, which take kids to sporting events. She also said that about 50 percent of the buses have cameras on the stop arms, and the company is working toward having cameras on all the buses, though is somewhat hampered by a limited annual allowance for such safety features. The high-resolution cameras can record images from the front, side and back of the bus, producing a clear picture of license plates. The cameras serve as a backup to the bus drivers who undergo extensive safety training.
Though, the bus drivers keep their eyes on the children getting safely across roads, they must also monitor traffic, which on Highway 71 travels at speeds of 45 mph.
The problem with motorists unlawfully passing stopped buses is a nationwide one. A report with figures from 28 states, not including Nebraska, found 88,025 violations in one day. The study came from the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services. The one-day sample of 88,025 vehicles illegally passing buses translates to 16 million violations in a 180-day school year. That is with a bit more than half of the states reporting their figures.