ST. PAUL, Minn. — Motorists who violate state law by passing a stopped school bus with its lights flashing and stop arm extended will face a larger fine as of Tuesday.
Citations for running a stop arm have gone up from $300 to $500 for Minnesota motorists.
Shelly Jonas, executive administrator for Minnesota School Bus Operators Association (MSBOA), confirmed to SBF that the fee increase is the result of passage of a section of HF 380, which increases fines for certain traffic violations around school buses. (The bill was introduced in January 2017 and has been sitting in the Ways and Means Committee since March).
However, the spike in the fine is not as strict as previously proposed crackdowns. MSBOA has made several efforts over the years to toughen penalties for school bus passing violations, including with proposed bill HF 1948 in 2015, which would not only have bumped up the fine for motorists but also required them to complete a driver improvement clinic and made it harder for them to plea down the charge.
Lawmakers were reluctant to put through deterrent measures included in HF 1948 other than the fee increase, Jonas said, so MSBOA pushed to get at least that passed.
“We will keep trying," she added. "We feel there is still a significant gap.”
Stop-arm violations statewide
During the annual nationwide National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation one-day stop-arm survey earlier this year, 3,659 bus drivers across the state reported 703 stop arm violations in one day, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
In the past six years, law enforcement across the state wrote nearly 9,000 stop arm violation citations, according to the Minnesota Department of Safety. Those numbers break down as follows:
• 2011: 1,391
• 2012: 1,476
• 2013: 1,535
• 2014: 1,674
• 2015: 1,400
• 2016: 1,318
“We would prefer not to see those [violations], but if they do occur, we hope that along the way, prosecutors and judges also treat it seriously and follow through to a conclusion where the general public learns that this is a serious misdemeanor,” Jonas said. “We met with judges and prosecutors, showing them this information. Somewhere along the way, the prosecutors are proceeding with a lower offense or dismissing the charge for whatever reason.”
“Too often motorists ignore the school bus laws or are too distracted that they don’t see the bus picking up or dropping off children until it’s too late,” said Col. Matt Langer, chief of the Minnesota State Patrol. “When motorists violate the law, it puts the lives of children at risk. Drivers should always be looking out for school buses and expect those buses to make frequent stops during the morning and afternoon school hours. Pay attention and stop for buses to help keep our children safe.”
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety released the following tips for motorists and students traveling near school buses:
• In Minnesota, motorists must stop at least 20 feet from a school bus that is displaying red flashing lights or a stop arm when approaching from the rear and from the opposite direction on undivided roads.
• Motorists should slow down, pay attention, and anticipate school children and buses, especially in neighborhoods and school zones.
• The best way to be aware of your surroundings at all times is to put distractions away.
• When getting off a bus, look to be sure no cars are passing on the shoulder.
• Wait for the bus driver to signal that it’s safe to cross.
• When crossing the street to get on the bus or to go home, make eye contact with motorists before proceeding.