Stop When the School Bus Stops

A school bus stops, via Wikimedia Commons

A school bus stops and warns drivers not to pass. But some drivers fail to pay attention. Photo by Infrogmation [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

JONESBORO, Ark. – Every day thousands of area school children board school buses. However, many drivers do not stop when the school bus stops.

Jonesboro Police Department’s public information officer Paul Holmes said the city issued 23 citations in the past 12 months to drivers caught passing stopped school buses. He said the penalties often shock drivers.

According to Arkansas state law, the fines range from $250 to $1,000. The penalty also affects your motor vehicle report similarly as reckless driving and driving under the influence. A driver’s motor vehicle report also directly affects insurance rates.

Jonesboro Police Department Sgt. Doug Formon said those who will pass a stopped school bus often amazes him.

“I’ve stopped several school teachers, not only locally from here, but from other school districts,” Formon said. “I’ve stopped a school bus driver one day who was off work from Missouri.”

Formon said when he follows a school bus, drivers attempting to pass the stopped bus will often pass him first. He said many drivers claim to not have seen the bus while others simply did not pay attention. Formon said after the passing of no-texting laws, many drivers now look down at their phones as an attempt to keep them hidden, which he believes also contributes to a rise of violations.

A lack of education causes many drivers to pass stopped school buses. Formon said many drivers he stops thought they didn’t have to stop due to them traveling in the opposite direction, i.e. many said they believed they don’t have to stop because of the two lanes and an additional passing lane divide them and the stopped school bus.

Arkansas state law 27-51-2004 states, “When a school bus stops and displays its alternating red warning lights for the purpose of loading or unloading passengers, every operator of a motor vehicle or motorcycle meeting or overtaking the school bus from any direction shall bring the motor vehicle or motorcycle to a complete stop before reaching the school bus. The operator of the motor vehicle or motorcycle shall not start up or attempt to pass in any direction until the school bus vehicle has finished receiving or discharging its passengers and is in motion again.” You can read the state laws regarding school buses in their entirety here.

Formon said all drivers on all of Jonesboro’s roads must always stop for school buses with no exception. He said he can only catch one per bus, but more than 20 vehicles often pass.

Forman said he remembers a time they took more officers out to follow school buses, and they stopped over 30 vehicles because enough officers patrolled that day.

Jonesboro School District transportation director Mickey Long said be believes the problem also lies with the parents of the bus riders. He said while dropping their children off at the bus stop, many parents will stop long enough to watch their children board the bus, and then pass the bus illegally.

Long said this remains a chronic problem. He said he turns in at least three reports from bus drivers a week. He said he believes simply holding people accountable will help bring awareness. His department works closely with Jonesboro police to combat this ongoing issue.

Long said it’s not uncommon to see several officers come to the bus yard and follow the drivers on their routes. Holmes said they remain in constant communication with the transportation department to find problem areas.

Long said he hears reports of drivers passing stopped buses from his drivers every day. He said many times the drivers said they believe if the children did not pay attention, they would have been hit.

Long said the wind blowing a dropped piece of paper into traffic could potentially cause a tragedy, i.e. some children will give chase without stopping to consider if everyone will stop.

“The risk and reward are not there because the risk is you’re going to run over a kid,” Long said.

Holmes said they try to educate the public through the media and also social media. He said they try to do everything they can to better educate the public. Formon said they placed an electronic billboard at the beginning of every school year.

The Arkansas State Board of Education annually holds a Flashing Red. Kids Ahead. campaign, designed to educate Arkansas drivers on school bus safety. 

“ADE encourages students and schools to get involved in the campaign by sharing videos and pictures of why school bus safety is important,” ADE’s Kimberly Friedman said. “Videos and pictures can be posted to social media using #2016Flashing Red”

Long said he doesn’t want to get anyone in trouble. He said he simply believes prosecution of drivers who do not stop brings awareness to the problem.

Holmes said the best thing would be for drivers simply to comply. He said he hopes the public will become better educated because eventually they will be caught.

“They’ll get educated when you say, ‘Sign here,'” he said.

Long said one driver can make a difference in protecting the children.

“It just takes that one person to stop,” Long said. “You stop for the bus and everyone behind you is going to stop.”