The Iowa Department of Transportation passed a series of laws on Sunday that will heighten the penalties for certain traffic violations.
Included in the changes is the "move over" law, which requires drivers to change lanes when passing emergency or other authorized vehicles. This law also helps to enforce the penalties when drivers pass a stopped school bus with its arm out and its red lights flashing.
Previously, the penalty was a fine of $200. Now, however, violators can face a fine of between $250 and $675, and/or up to 30 days in jail.
And the penalties increase with the offenses. Following offenses can increase the fine to up to $1,875. A violation that causes an injury or a death could result in additional fines, a suspended license, or even jail time.
This law, specifically when involving a stopped school bus, is a result of "Kadyn's Law," named after the 7-year-old girl who was killed last year in Northwood, Iowa, from a driver who failed to stop for a school bus.
According to Kadyn's Law, a case of vehicular homicide where no substances were involved will result in at least 15 years in prison. A similar situation with substances involved will result in a 25-year minimum sentence.
Randy Krukow, Clay County sheriff, believes that these added laws will help to focus the attention of drivers toward the emergency vehicles and school buses.
"It's in the awareness," Krukow said. "This will definitely get their attention more."
Krukow also noted that the recent technology in school buses does help the investigation. Nearly every bus has a camera, which focuses on vehicles and plates that unlawfully pass the bus.
"If the driver isn't produced, the owner of the vehicle will be implicated," Krukow said.
Mark Lawson, Spencer police chief, does not believe that the stricter laws will change the number of drivers that pass illegally.
"People make bad decisions, regardless of the fine," Lawson said.
However, both Krukow and Lawson do agree that the majority of the violations occur because drivers have become increasingly distracted by music, food, and more recently, smartphones and other hand-held technology devices.
"People blow stop signs and get in accidents because they didn't see it or they're distracted," Lawson said. "Law enforcement helps, but once you pass the test and get the license, it's up to you."
The law that requires drivers to stop for school buses has been in effect for over 10 years, but Krukow can only remember a few instances where a driver deliberately passed a bus.
"People just need to slow down," he said.
In addition to the stricter mandates on vehicles, further steps have been taken to ensure the safety of the children riding the bus. A new law requires a school district to perform a criminal background check each time they hire a new driver, as well as each time their license is renewed.
Julie Nemmers, the Director of Transportation at Spencer Schools, thinks that this stricter standard is a positive change for the district and for its students.
"It used to be that when you hired a driver, they could drive for 30 years and never get checked," she said. "It's a great benefit for somebody who feels they can act however they want, thinking their job is secure."
However, Nemmers did note that she doesn't believe there's much of a risk at Spencer schools.
These new traffic laws went into effect on July 1.
Kadyn's Law, now passed in Iowa and signed by Governor Brandstad, is moving on to the national legislature, in hopes that it will become a national standard.