Marshfield Bus Service Concerned For Children’s Safety
According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, from 2003 to 2012, 174 school-age children died in school-transportation-related crashes (55 were occupants of school transportation vehicles and 119 were pedestrians).
Just last week, a 22-year-old man illegally passed a stopped school bus with stop arm extended, and struck three high school students in Otsego, Minnesota as they crossed an intersection.
Issues like this are not foreign to Marshfield buses. During the 2015-2016 school year, Marshfield school bus drivers reported 35 illegal school bus passings, and as of January 25, last year’s record was surpassed with 38 passings (plus an additional 12 where the license plate could not be recorded). To date this school year, Marshfield Police Department has issued 10 citations, 16 verbal or written warnings, and has 7 incidents under investigation pertaining to school bus passings.
The rise in bus passings is alarming to Marshfield Bus Service staff, who fear for the safety of the students who ride any of their 34 buses operated every school-day morning and afternoon.
By law, drivers are required to stop (and keep a 20-foot distance from the bus) if the lights are flashing red, and remain stopped until either the bus moves or the red lights stop. Though the laws are more complicated regarding amber (yellow) lights, a general rule of thumb is for drivers to stop whenever there are flashing lights, even if they are only the amber flashers. Similar to a traffic lighted intersection, when the light turns yellow, drivers should prepare to stop.
“When you see the red (or for that fact, amber warning lights come on) please stop until the lights are extinguished and the bus starts to move,” said Duane Nothnagel, Director of Training and Safety. “This is a sure sign that children are going to be moving in the immediate area. Take the few extra moments to be sure you are ‘not that person’ that could not wait for the children.”
Nothnagel encourages drivers to stop and give the bus room whenever lights are flashing. Even when it appears that a child has boarded the bus, there could always be more children following.
“If the lights are on, stop and give them room,” he said. “There could be a straggler.”
Consequences for not obeying traffic laws regarding buses can result in a fine of $250 (within City limits) or $326.50 (County/State Patrol), and 3 points off a driver’s license.
Though the financial implications are strict, there are even worse consequences to negligent driving.
“We’ve got cameras in the buses and the the last thing I want to look at is a kid crossing the street getting hit,” said Nothnagel.
Though cameras are present in all Marshfield School Buses, they do not have the capability to read license plates.
“These cameras are an accident event recorder,” said Verlyn Randt, General Manager. “The main intent of the cameras was to give a view of the situation leading up to, during, and after an accident. They are designed to reduce liability.”
Though not able to read license plates, the video being continuously recorded by bus cameras is a useful tool when cross-referencing a driver’s license plate record (as recorded by the bus driver) with the make and model of the passing vehicle. Therefore, videos are often included with the report submitted to the appropriate law enforcement agency.
When a driver reports an incident, Marshfield Bus Service reviews footage of the incident to determine if there is enough evidence for law enforcement. A report is then filed with the relevant police department or sheriff’s office, and officers determine whether to issue a warning or citation.
Randt attributes the rise in school bus passings to distracted driving, and often witnesses negligent drivers texting or doing other tasks instead of focusing on the road.
“It’s a nationwide problem. Everyone thinks they are the exception,” said Randt. “They think they can do other things and still focus on driving.”
“Our society today is trying to do too much at one time,” he added. “If everyone just focused on what they were doing, we would all be much safer.”
“These are the children of mothers and fathers, grandparents and friends, and classmates,” said Northnagel. “Why risk a minute, two minutes maybe, and hit a kid?”
From the Wisconsin Department of Transportation:
Per State Statute ( Section 346.48), drivers must stop on the street or highway 20 feet or more from any school bus that has stopped and is flashing red warning lights.
- This applies both to vehicles approaching from the rear and from the opposing lanes.
- All lanes of traffic must stop for the school bus, except in opposing lanes if the highway is divided with a center median.
- No vehicle may proceed until the bus resumes motion and has turned off the red warning lights.
- The stop arm on the bus is an added communication to other drivers, but the lack of an extended stop arm is not reason to pass a bus whose red lights are flashing.
In some urban areas buses will signal with yellow lights, or use red lights only in some parts of town. Motorists should observe school buses carefully for either the “pass cautiously” yellow light signal or the required full stop when a bus is flashing red lights.
A vehicle owner can be cited when the driver of a car passes a school bus illegally. A law enforcement officer need not witness this violation if the school bus driver reports it to the law enforcement agency within 24 hours. Fines can be quite high for illegally passing a school bus, but the risk of hitting a child is even higher.