We inhabit a world in which there are very few absolutes.
Even stop signs don’t seem to always mean stop. Park near an intersection controlled by stop signs and you’ll see what I mean. A frightening percentage of the traffic approaching the stop sign will roll past the stop sign, ignore stop lines painted on the ground, and if no vehicles are approaching continue without making a full stop.
Here’s an absolute we insist upon maintaining.
When a school bus is stopped with its stop arm extended, stop. No questions asked. No arguing. No negotiating.
See, we can protect kids when they’re inside the bus. That yellow bus is a huge piece of equipment, much bigger and heavier than the average vehicle it meets. The student seating compartment rests several feet higher than the average vehicle on the road, keeping students above the point of direct impact in most collisions. The seats are high-backed, flexible, and well-padded, insulating students from most things.
The bright red stop sign coupled with amber and red warning lights and the well-enforced safety practices keep our students safe outside the bus.
The single variable over which we have the least amount of control is the approaching motorist who fails to honor our stop signs.
Unfortunately, stop arm violations occur too often, in the same day we have had one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
In the morning, the bus was stopped and students waited outside for the bus driver to signal them to approach the bus. Meanwhile, a woman driving in the neighborhood failed to stop for the extended stop arm. Her husband called today to ask us to rescind the report. We aren’t allowed to do that. The law requires us to submit the report.
In the afternoon, a younger woman passed a school bus from the rear. She had a young man in the vehicle with her. They passed the bus on the right – the door side – just as students were preparing to exit the bus. We believe the inhabitants of the vehicle were high school students. We’re not yet sure that they realize how serious yesterday’s incident was. Passing a school bus on the right, even when only the yellow lights are flashing, is a serious offense because it’s so dangerous.
If I remember correctly, in Minnesota both drivers could be charged with gross misdemeanors, punishable by up to $3,000 in fines, the loss of their drivers’ licenses, and up to 30 days in jail. Whether or not they’ll be charged that way and whether or not the punishment is imposed is up to the legal minds at the County Courthouse.
It’s not up to us – not the bus driver, not the bus company, nor school district administration – to decide when and if we’ll submit a stop arm violation report or to decide how that report with be handled.
When we file a report, our great hope is not that people will get the maximum sentence when they violate a stop arm. Our great hope is primarily that those violators will not harm one of our students. Second to that, we hope those violators take it seriously when the officer visits them and explains what they’ve done wrong and issues the ticket. We hope that they spend the next weeks talking to family and friends about the incident, spreading the word that when a school bus stop arm is extended, there is no negotiating. There is no rolling through. There is no second-guessing or interpreting. There is only the absolute fact that all traffic must stop.
Incidentally, it’s probably just as well that we aren’t in charge of issuing the punishment for violating stop arms. I’ve been behind the wheel of a school bus when students were outside and I didn’t know whether oncoming traffic would stop or not. I believe our students’ safety is worth the maximum penalty.