Not Minnesota Nice: Illegal School Bus Passing Is At Epidemic Level In Minnesota
Bus drivers and transportation officials are begging motorists to slow down and stop behind school buses. There are an unbelievable amount of close calls each day, and sadly tragedies do happen. In recent years the amount of people passing school buses and ignoring stop arms has drastically increased. Children getting off and on school buses are in great danger.
To combat this, many school districts are using grant money offered by the state to install stop-arm cameras to catch those who illegally pass school buses. The camera is able to take several pictures and can capture the type of vehicle and license plate number. The driver calls it in, and the police are able to issue a ticket to the driver responsible.
What does the law say about passing school buses illegally?
In the 2022 Minnesota Statues, section 169.444 Safety Of School Children; Duties of Other Drivers:
When a school bus is stopped on a street or highway, or other location where signs have been erected under section 169.443, subdivision 2, paragraph (b), and is displaying an extended stop-signal arm and flashing red lights, the driver of a vehicle approaching the bus shall stop the vehicle at least 20 feet away from the bus. The vehicle driver shall not allow the vehicle to move until the school bus stop-signal arm is retracted and the red lights are no longer flashing. No person may pass or attempt to pass a school bus in a motor vehicle on the right-hand, passenger-door side of the bus when the school bus is displaying the prewarning flashing amber signals as required in section 169.443, subdivision 1.
The minimum fine for passing a bus is $500. It goes even higher if children are around.
In a one-day survey across the United States, there were 51,000 vehicles that illegally passed a school bus.
This survey was for just one day. It was conducted by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services. With the data, they collected they estimate that 41.8 million violations occurred during the school year.
Minnesota violations by the numbers.
The Minnesota State Patrol started a #stoponred initiative to get the word out that this has become a huge problem. Statewide, schools were asked to have their bus drivers report any illegal passing vehicles. It took place on April 13th. There were 1,033 violations in a single day in Minnesota. That's over 1,000 close calls in just one day.
Why are people not stopping?
I spoke with Nathan Berg, Transportation Supervisor for Willow River School District. He's very passionate about this, as he has three grandkids in his school district, and considers all of the children at Willow River his grandkids. It's his biggest fear that he would have to respond to one of these tragedies.
He shared even more surprising statistics. They surveyed those people who were ticketed for illegal passing asking why they did it. 45% didn't know that they had to stop for a stop-arm on a bus. An additional 45% were distracted. 10% of people just simply didn't care and passed anyway.
Shocking. Some drivers don't think the stop arm applies to them.
What can school districts do?
Nathan and his school applied for grants from the state. Phase 6 is still open for schools to get money for stop-arm cameras. When they first got the cameras, Nathan wasn't even sure if it was that big of an issue. Once the cameras were installed he realized just how many stop-arm violations occur in the Willow River School District area. One day last year 3 violations happened at the same stop. Two of them were ice fishermen towing ice houses passing a school bus.
Here is a picture of where the cameras are installed. They record constantly. When a bus driver sees someone illegally pass them the hit a button to mark the time it occurred so they can retrieve it. They radio it in right away in case an officer is nearby and can make a stop.
Bigger Minnesota School Districts are having trouble too.
Bloomington has installed stop-arm cameras on its buses. This school year they have already had 2400 violations since the start of this school year. That's 600 violations a month!
Buses are yellow for a reason. Those flashing lights mean something.
In 2017, a seven-year-old child was killed crossing the street to get on a bus in Minnesota. The orange amber lights were on as the bus was approaching the stop. The child was approaching the bus when a driver ran them over.
Yes, the stop arm wasn't out. Yes, the child should have paid attention. But absolutely 100% of the blame goes to the inattentive driver. They killed a child. They took a child away from a family. They snuffed out a child's life because they weren't paying attention, or didn't want to stop for a bus. They now have to live with that forever.
School buses are yellow for a reason. It's the most noticeable color. The intent always has been to keep the children as safe as possible. School district transportation directors like Nathan Berg understand it's important for kids, bus drivers, and drivers all work together. They train their kids on bus safety to stop, make eye contact with the driver, and then the driver let them know when it's safe to cross.
Kids can be distracted looking at their phones, so it's important that kids know to make eye contact with the driver. Teach your children this at home too.