KENSETT, Iowa — A hit-and-run accident that killed a 7-year-old student last week has elevated efforts to prevent school bus stop-arm running incidents.
The Iowa State Patrol reported that on Tuesday morning, Kadyn Halverson of rural Kensett was walking across a road to board her school bus, which was stopped in the northbound lane with its lights flashing and stop arm out. A southbound pickup truck failed to stop and struck the girl.
Halverson, a student in the Northwood-Kensett Community School District, was thrown off of the road. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
The driver of the pickup fled but was apprehended a short time later, police said. Aaron Gunderson, 31, was taken into custody for questioning and later released. Charges against Gunderson were pending the results of the processing of evidence.
The accident added urgency to a statewide survey of stop-arm violations, which was already scheduled for the following day. Max Christensen, executive officer of school transportation at the Iowa Department of Education, told SBF that although the results of the survey had not yet been finalized, he believes that the illegal bus-passing incidents are on the rise.
"Unfortunately, a large percentage of the reported violations never get prosecuted," Christensen said.
H. Carroll Van Hove, a school bus driver for North Iowa Community School in Buffalo Center, shared his experience with the problem in a note to Christensen.
"At least once a week, and even two or three times a week, someone passes [my] bus illegally while the bus is stopped, red lights [are] flashing and stop signs are fully extended," Van Hove wrote. "Many times, the driver is on the cell phone and not paying a bit of attention. ... I am really concerned about this."
After the Tuesday accident, Christensen wrote to pupil transportation officials across the state about the need to "redouble our efforts" to keep kids safe on and off the bus.
"Please be sure that your drivers are aware of the traffic around the buses when the students are in the vulnerable positions outside the bus," Christensen wrote. "Be sure your drivers are giving their students a signal to indicate when it’s OK to cross the road to get to and from the bus. Also, be sure those pre-trips [inspections] are being done to ensure all warning lights and stop arms are working."
Christensen told SBF that he spoke to transportation directors from several school districts, and they decided to form a state task force to work on more ways to fight the stop-arm running problem. He said that efforts may include additional training for drivers and students, production of public service announcements, and working with law enforcement and judicial entities to bring more attention to the problem and put more "bite" into the current stop-arm law. Another idea is to have a standardized crossing signal for the whole state.
"Losing one is too many," Christensen said of the Tuesday accident. "It’s pretty devastating all the way around."