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School bus safety

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The faint hum of grain being dried of a quiet evening.

A marching band's rhythmic cadence as they practice on a cool morning.

The sudden roar of the crowd at a "Friday Night Lights" showdown.

The pulsating buzz of the cicada.

These are just a few sounds you may be hearing that signal the change in seasons. As summer turns to fall, another sound we all will be hearing more of is the droning of diesel engines as our school bus fleets gear up for another year of school.

With that droning comes new changes in the school bus stop arm regulations for 2012. These new regulations were enacted in response to an incident near Northwood, Iowa, on May 10, 2011. On that morning, Kadyn Halverson, 7 years old, was struck and killed by a passing motorist as she was getting on a school bus in front of her house. The school bus had activated its flashing warning lamps and had extended its stop sign as required by law.

"Kadyn's Law" was passed into law as a response to this tragedy. The law does not change the requirements for motorists as they approach a school bus that has stopped, but significantly increases the fines if motorists fail to comply. A "Kadyn's Law" violation is now a mandatory court appearance. The new fine has increased from $330 to a maximum of $675, along with up to 30 days in jail, or both at the discretion of the court. Second and subsequent offenses increase the fine up to $1,875 and/or six months in jail. The Department of Transportation now lists this violation as a serious violation, meaning that a single violation can result in a suspension of your license, regardless of your driving history. Finally, if there is injury or death associated with the violation, fines of up to $1,000 can be added with a license suspension of up to six months.

All of these fines and penalties are enough to make anyone's head spin. When government makes changes to this degree, there is always criticism. Some ask, "Why do we need to go to this extent? As tragic as this event was, wasn't it an isolated incident?" This is a valid question that needs to be addressed. A recent survey by the Department of Education may shed some light on this issue.

The Department commissioned a voluntary, one-day survey of bus drivers across the state. Participating schools/busses would report the number of stop arm violations that occurred on their morning and afternoon routes. The results were eye-opening, to say the least.

Of an estimated 5,000 school busses on Iowa's roads each day, 2,295 actually participated in this one-day survey. This represents approximately 46 percent of Iowa's school bus fleet. For the reporting period, there were 327 incidents, with a total of 393 vehicles illegally passing a stopped school bus. The difference in incidents to vehicles means that there were several incidents that included more than one vehicle that passed illegally at a time. Even more eye opening was the fact that 3 percent of these violations occurred on the right side of the bus (the right shoulder, where the bus door is located). Once again, that was 327 incidents in one day, with not even half of the schools reporting.

It should be noted that this was a non-scientific survey that was conducted in a portion of Iowa's schools. Regardless of this fact, there are several conclusions that can be reasonably drawn. First, school bus stop arm violations are more common than anyone realizes. Second, it is a combination of divine intervention and competent bus drivers that have prevented these incidents from becoming another tragedy.

So what is the bottom line? As a motorist approaching a school bus, expect it to be making a stop and know how to react when it does. Obey posted speed limits and watch for children near school zones. Avoid all forms of distractions while driving.

Finally, remember that another sound of the changing seasons should be laughter ... laughter as our children enjoy a safe ride home from a day at school.

The faint hum of grain being dried of a quiet evening.

A marching band's rhythmic cadence as they practice on a cool morning.

The sudden roar of the crowd at a "Friday Night Lights" showdown.

The pulsating buzz of the cicada.

These are just a few sounds you may be hearing that signal the change in seasons. As summer turns to fall, another sound we all will be hearing more of is the droning of diesel engines as our school bus fleets gear up for another year of school.

With that droning comes new changes in the school bus stop arm regulations for 2012. These new regulations were enacted in response to an incident near Northwood, Iowa, on May 10, 2011. On that morning, Kadyn Halverson, 7 years old, was struck and killed by a passing motorist as she was getting on a school bus in front of her house. The school bus had activated its flashing warning lamps and had extended its stop sign as required by law.

"Kadyn's Law" was passed into law as a response to this tragedy. The law does not change the requirements for motorists as they approach a school bus that has stopped, but significantly increases the fines if motorists fail to comply. A "Kadyn's Law" violation is now a mandatory court appearance. The new fine has increased from $330 to a maximum of $675, along with up to 30 days in jail, or both at the discretion of the court. Second and subsequent offenses increase the fine up to $1,875 and/or six months in jail. The Department of Transportation now lists this violation as a serious violation, meaning that a single violation can result in a suspension of your license, regardless of your driving history. Finally, if there is injury or death associated with the violation, fines of up to $1,000 can be added with a license suspension of up to six months.

All of these fines and penalties are enough to make anyone's head spin. When government makes changes to this degree, there is always criticism. Some ask, "Why do we need to go to this extent? As tragic as this event was, wasn't it an isolated incident?" This is a valid question that needs to be addressed. A recent survey by the Department of Education may shed some light on this issue.

The Department commissioned a voluntary, one-day survey of bus drivers across the state. Participating schools/busses would report the number of stop arm violations that occurred on their morning and afternoon routes. The results were eye-opening, to say the least.

Of an estimated 5,000 school busses on Iowa's roads each day, 2,295 actually participated in this one-day survey. This represents approximately 46 percent of Iowa's school bus fleet. For the reporting period, there were 327 incidents, with a total of 393 vehicles illegally passing a stopped school bus. The difference in incidents to vehicles means that there were several incidents that included more than one vehicle that passed illegally at a time. Even more eye opening was the fact that 3 percent of these violations occurred on the right side of the bus (the right shoulder, where the bus door is located). Once again, that was 327 incidents in one day, with not even half of the schools reporting.

It should be noted that this was a non-scientific survey that was conducted in a portion of Iowa's schools. Regardless of this fact, there are several conclusions that can be reasonably drawn. First, school bus stop arm violations are more common than anyone realizes. Second, it is a combination of divine intervention and competent bus drivers that have prevented these incidents from becoming another tragedy.

So what is the bottom line? As a motorist approaching a school bus, expect it to be making a stop and know how to react when it does. Obey posted speed limits and watch for children near school zones. Avoid all forms of distractions while driving.

Finally, remember that another sound of the changing seasons should be laughter ... laughter as our children enjoy a safe ride home from a day at school.