7 stop-arm violations in 14 school days
It is the worse start to a school year that Spencer Schools Transportation Director Julie Nemmers can remember in terms of school bus safety. Since school started Aug. 24, seven stop-arm violations have been reported and recorded by Spencer school bus drivers and their bus cameras.
"Thank heavens we have the cameras in all of our buses," Nemmers said. "When a bus driver witnesses a violation we can download the video and can see it happen. We take a snapshot of the driver and their car and report it to law enforcement. They also watch the video and then issue a citation to the owner of the vehicle."
According to Nemmers, the videos from the school bus camera shows distracted driving as a major factor. The stop-arm violators so far have been men and women of varying ages.
"We can see when they are texting or making a call in the video," Nemmers explained. "Other violators treat the stop arm like a stop sign where they stop or slow down and then continue past the bus if they think it is clear to go."
"Most of the time these cars don't even stop," Spencer Police Chief Mark Warburton said. "Or, they don't realize their mistake until it is too late. People are trying to do as much as they can during their mundane everyday drives to work which is causing people to be distracted. Driving needs to be made the priority when you are in a vehicle. Driving is not a time to multitask."
Drivers are encouraged to be on the lookout for busses now that the school year is in full swing. They should be aware of their responsibilities when they encounter one of the long-yellow vehicles that may be dropping off or picking up children.
"School bus drivers must put on their yellow flashers 300 feet before they stop to signal to drivers they will be stopping," Nemmers explained. "The red flashing light goes on when the bus is stopped and the stop arm, that flashing stop sign on the side of the bus, goes out. Drivers behind the bus must stop and can't go around the bus while the stop arm is out. Drivers approaching the bus from the opposite direction must stop and cannot continue until the stop arm is retracted. A violation occurs when drivers pass a bus when the stop arm is out."
Those who are cited for a stop-arm violation face severe penalties under Kadyn's Law.
"Kadyn's Law was named after Kadyn Halverson who was running to get onto her bus on a county highway that ran past her house and was killed when she was hit by a driver who failed to stop for the bus," Iowa State Trooper Vince Kurtz, ISP safety education officer, said. "Kadyn's Law enhanced the penalties for violators of the stop arm law."
Kurtz explained a first-time offender of the law faces a fine of up to $750, 30 days suspended license and the possibility of 30 days in jail.
"These are very serious violations, and they come with serious consequences," Kurtz said. "Most people don't realize how important the stop-arm law is until it is too late, And by too late, I mean after a child is hit, injured or even killed. We are fortunate that there haven't been more Kadyn Halverson incidents in Iowa, but it is only a matter of time."
The Spencer School District has been fortunate to not have had any accidents as a result of stop-arm violations this year or in the past, but it can only last so long.
"Our luck is going to run out one of these days," Nemmers said. "We have had a few close calls, but our bus drivers are doing their best to keep kids safe. My fear is that someone will go through a stop arm and hit, injure or kill a student. Our students safety is my top priority, and that is what I am working to do."
According to Amy Sievers, driver's license supervisor with the Iowa DOT, bus safety is an emphasized component of driver's education.
"The teenagers should be more aware of the school bus laws because we do a lot with it in driver's ed," Sievers said. "I come in and talk about the consequences of violating the stop-arm law. I am at a loss though on what more we can do to stop these violations. It is not just teens who are violators. We need to reach the adults too."