After hearing concerns from school bus drivers, Hastings Public Schools once again is asking drivers to obey the law by observing buses’ outstretched stop sign arms.
David Essink, HPS director of human resources and operations, said he has gotten reports about motorists putting the safety of students at risk by disregarding the stop sign arm of a school bus.
Essink said the majority of people ignoring the stop sign usually are going in the opposite direction of a school bus, which in most cases is just as illegal as passing that same school bus from behind on the left.
For example, if a bus stops on Burlington Avenue, drivers going both north and south are required to stop.
“The people in the far lanes, pretty much nobody is stopping. But there are also people riding on their (bus driver’s) own side, going around the stop sign, which they feel is the more dangerous part,” Essink said.
Essink said one bus driver counted 200 cars ignoring the bus stop sign in one day.
Driving around a stopped school bus that is loading or unloading is a safety risk, because drivers cannot see around the bus easily and children may run into the street suddenly.
“Once a student leaves that bus, or even before they’re going to get on, you don’t know for sure what they are going to do,” Essink said. “They might run somewhere, they might dart out.”
Nebraska law requires drivers going the same direction as the school bus to stop when red lights flash and the arm with the stop sign is extended, regardless of the number of lanes, said Hastings Police Department Capt. Mike Doremus.
Drivers going the opposite direction of the school bus also are required to stop if there is a painted median or no median. If a raised median divides the roadway, drivers are not required to stop.
“The law is pretty easy to understand,” Doremus said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily people that are intentionally doing it. Some just aren’t as well informed or they see somebody else doing it.”
State law does not set a distance to stop away from the bus, but Doremus recommends at least a car length either behind or in front of the bus.
Drivers also must be cautious and slow down to at least 25 mph when yellow lights flash, regardless of the direction of travel.
In addition to putting students at risk, not stopping for a school bus can be a $500 fine, with additional court costs. Doremus said authorities would rather educate the driver with a warning than issue a citation.
“If its a blatant violation and they can benefit more from a citation, they might get a citation. The goal is to educate more than punish or fine,” Doremus said. “These days, if one person gets a $500 fine, a lot of people are going to know about it.”
Just over 100 students use the 13 school buses available at Hastings Public Schools. The majority of those students are preschoolers ages 3 and 4. Other students using the school buses are special-needs students, or students riding to and from activities.
Doremus said the police department started a campaign about two years ago to remind people about stopping for the school buses. For about two weeks, officers were assigned to follow school buses and issue warnings or citations.
Some school districts in the United States have begun to put cameras on the stop sign arm to record violations. Hastings Public Schools does not do this, but a local district has a camera for monitoring children on the school bus that can be turned to record people ignoring stop signs on school buses.