Vail Daily column: Know the law — stop for school buses
More than 3,500 children ride school buses daily in Eagle County. According to the Eagle County School’s website, the district has transported students safely and without injury for more than two decades.
The Austin, Texas, school district has not been as fortunate. This past September, two Austin students were struck within two days of one another after exiting their school buses. Luckily both children sustained only minor injuries. In both accidents the drivers, not the children, were found to be at fault and cited. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “from 2003 to 2012, 174 school-age children died in school-transportation-related crashes, 55 were occupants of school transportation vehicles and 119 were pedestrians.” Many of those deaths could have been prevented if drivers observed the laws pertaining to school buses.
With 24 school bus routes around our county every weekday morning and afternoon, Eagle County drivers are likely to encounter school buses from time to time. If my unscientific observation waiting alongside U.S. Highway 6 with my children for their school bus is any indication, then the majority of drivers do not know the law.
Colorado requires school buses to activate their flashing yellow lights 200 feet prior to stopping. Just as with traffic lights, yellow indicates vehicles should slow down and prepare to stop. School buses must pull over as far to the right as practical when picking up and dropping off students. The bus pulls over to get as close to the pedestrian walkway as possible. The bus is not pulling over to allow traffic to pass. To be clear, the fact that the bus has pulled over does not absolve drivers of the responsibility of stopping. Once stopped, school buses are required by Colorado law to activate their red flashing lights when children are boarding or departing the bus.
Stopping for school buses that have stopped and turned on their flashing red lights is not optional — it is the law. In addition to the flashing red lights, school buses also deploy a stop sign. Really, with their flashing lights and protruding stop sign school buses are hard to miss, unless you are looking down at your phone.
State traffic law requires that motor vehicles approaching a stopped school bus, either behind or in oncoming lanes, stop unless the road is divided by a median. A few roads in our county have medians — U.S. Highway 6 is not one of them. If you see a school bus with red flashing lights it does not matter what direction you are driving, you need to stop. House Bill 09-1236 established a set distance at which a motor vehicle must stop prior to reaching a school bus once the bus has deployed its stop signal. The bill requires that drivers stop at a minimum distance of 20 feet behind or in front of any school bus once the bus has signaled its intent to stop.
According to Mcdivittlaw.com, the fine for failure to stop for a school bus can be “up to $300, a mandatory court appearance, and six points on your license. A second offense within a five-year period will cost $1,000.” If you are under the age of 17 six points on your license will result in a 12-month license suspension. For those ages 18-21, three more points will result in a 12-month license suspension. According to Insurance.com, a ticket for failure to stop for a school bus could increase your auto insurance premium in Colorado on average 17 percent. I have contacted the Eagle County Sheriff’s department and made them aware of this problem. Furthermore, bus drivers can take down the vehicle license plates and the district transportation department can forward that information to law enforcement. Drivers can be cited based on the information provided by the school district.
Frankly, school bus drivers are busy enough without having to worry about taking down the plates of bad or distracted drivers. Running late? In a hurry? Take Interstate 70. But if you are driving on surface streets during school hours, then be alert for school buses and give them a break. I doubt you would appreciate other drivers adopting a cavalier attitude with the safety of your child or grandchild. Give empathy a chance.
Claire Noble can be found online at http://www.clairenoble.org and “Claire Noble Writer” on Facebook.