18 violations reportedPublished 11:42am Friday, October 4, 2013
When school starts back up again in the fall, so do routines like earlier bedtimes, carving out time for homework and parents running their kids to various activities.
But there’s another routine motorists need to remember again: Being aware of school buses around town.
Already this fall, Fergus Falls police have recorded 18 bus stop arm violations, which is a lot considering the school year is only about a month old.
“One a week would probably be more common,” Lt. Terry Eldien said. “There’s always more at the beginning of school because people are out of practice. They happen all year round. We get a lot of complaints about them.”
Ottertail Minn-Dakota Coaches, Inc. has 25 regular bus routes in Fergus Falls, all equipped with warning systems.
Buses are picking up and dropping of children from 6:30 to 8:30 a.m. and 3 to 5 p.m. on school days.
If drivers approach a school bus from the back or the front, and the bus has its stop signal arm and red lights flashing, the vehicle must stop at least 20 feet away from the bus and remain stopped until the sign is retracted and the lights are off, Eldien said.
Bus drivers that see motorists violating those rules will fill out a school bus stop arm violation and fax it to the police department so it can look into issuing a citation.
“It can be a pretty serious offense,” Eldien said.
You can even be arrested for it. In Minnesota, police can’t arrest someone for a misdemeanor unless the offense happens in the presence of law enforcement, Eldien said. However, misdemeanor DUI, domestic abuse, shoplifting and school bus violations are the exceptions to this rule.
A misdemeanor stop arm violation is punishable by a minimum fine of $300. If children are present outside the bus during the violation, then the person could be charged with a gross misdemeanor, and the fine amount would be at the court’s discretion.
One of the Ottertail Minn-Dakota Coaches, Inc. buses has four cameras on board, including one on the outside, driver’s side of the bus to capture video and audio of passing cars on the road. It can help identify drivers, vehicles and license plates for violations. It helps because usually bus drivers are paying attention to making sure the kids are safe, according to Mike Clark, general manager of Ottertail Minn-Dakota Coaches, Inc.
“It’s just a demo process,” Clark said. “It’s new technology to help.”
There isn’t one demographic over another that gets caught in violations, according to Clark. He just wants people to be aware of the buses and the kids on them.
“Be observant when you’re around the bus,” Clark said. “They are going to be making frequent stops.”
Many times, people aren’t paying enough attention around them or tell police they didn’t see the stop arm or lights, Eldien said.
“Any time you are around a school bus, pay attention and be cognizant of the flashing lights and the stop arm,” Eldien said. “The laws are there to protect our children.”