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Motorists Running School Bus Stop Signs Causing Concern

By Joel Stevens, Associate Editor

The Glenwood Community School District is asking motorists to stop.

    Stop passing through the flashing red and the stop arm of its school buses.
    In a typical year, the district sees a dozen reports of drivers ignoring school buses stopped to drop off or pick up students. Already this year, the district has 19 reports of motorists passing stopped school buses.
    “People need to be educated to pay attention, here’s what the law says: a bus driver can wave you through from the front but you cannot go around a stopped or slowing down bus. That is against the law and it’s dangerous to our kids,” said Glenwood Community School Superintendent Devin Embray.
    Glenwood Chief of Police Eric Johansen acknowledged there has been an uptick of reports in the Glenwood area of drivers running bus arms.
    “It’s like any other motor vehicle violation,” he said. “If people simply slowed down and paid attention to their surroundings, it would be beneficial for everyone.”
    In Glenwood, when bus drivers see a violator they are instructed to write down license plate numbers and fill out an affidavit of the incident and report that to the district, who then forwards it to the county attorney. Speeds of drivers violating the law among the 19 reported incidents to the district this school year range from one mile per hour to 60 miles per hour over posted speed limits, Embray said.
    Last November, a driver ran through the flashing red lights and stop arm on a school bus hitting and killing 10-year-old Kadyn Halverson in rural Worth County.  Halverson's family is lobbying Iowa lawmakers to stiffen the current penalty, which is $200 for a bus arm violation.
     Under the proposed law, a first offense would cost a driver a maximum penalty of $750 in fines and a year in jail. A second offense in a five-year period would double the maximum fine and include a 90-day driving suspension in addition to a year in jail. A third offense would be a Class D felony, punishable by up to a $7,500 fine, five years in jail and a driving suspension of 180 days.
    If a pedestrian is injured by someone overtaking a stopped school bus with the stop sign out and lights flashing, it would mean a mandatory five years in jail, no probation, a fine of up to $7,500 and a one -year license suspension. If a pedestrian is killed by a driver overtaking a stopped school bus with the stop sign out and lights flashing, the driver would face a mandatory 15 years in jail.
    The Iowa legislature is expected to hear the proposed law when it returns to session later this month.
    Embray is thankful none of the 19 violations reported so far have resulted in injuries. He credits that to the district’s conscientious bus staff.
    “I think our bus drivers have definitely saved the lives of children,” Embray said. “We would have dead students if it weren't for our bus drivers formulating visual communication with our kids getting off the bus and driving in the importance of ‘watch me.’”
    The Glenwood School District hopes to purchase cameras for the interior and exterior of its 28 buses with money available in the  Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE) Fund.
    “That actually will be able to pick up stuff that's going on out the windshield, inside the doors and out the back of the bus,” Embray said.
    The cameras run as much as $1,500 per unit.
    “It will be expenditure but hopefully it’s one that can help save lives and help with discipline and behavior on the bus,” Embray said.