School in session, motorists urged to use due diligence
WORTHINGTON -- The 2017-2018 District 518 school year got underway Tuesday, and buses were on the road again transporting students to public schools, Worthington Christian School and St. Mary's School.
WORTHINGTON - The 2017-2018 District 518 school year got underway Tuesday, and buses were on the road again transporting students to public schools, Worthington Christian School and St. Mary’s School.
There are 24 busses that operate from about 6:30 a.m. to 8 a.m. and 25 busses from 2:40 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., said Chris Kielblock, manager of Bud’s Bus Service Inc. The bus service is contracted by Independent District 518.
“It depends if they’re country or city routes,” Kielblock said of the range of pick-up and drop-off times.
It’s the motorists’ duty to pay attention and be alert when traveling within a certain distance of a school bus, Kielblock said.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety increased the fine to $500 for motorists who violate the school bus crossing arm law. The increase from $300 took effect Aug. 1.
According to Worthington Police Department Srg. Brett Wiltrout, per Minnesota State Law, motorists must stop at least 20 feet away from a school bus that has its stop arm extended and flashing red lights. No driver may pass the bus on the right-hand passenger door side when the bus is displaying flashing yellow lights, he added.
“If (a motorist) violates a school bus stop arm and there are children outside of the bus, that’s a gross misdemeanor and arrestable offense,” Wiltrout said.
Wiltrout said the WPD witnesses and receives reports of many violations.
The school bus driver may report a violation to the WPD or Nobles County Sheriff’s Office by recording the driver’s license plate number and vehicle description, Kielblock said. Wiltrout said a report is sufficient to cite a motorist that disobeys school bus laws.
Bud’s Bus Service reported 40 school bus law violations during the 2016-2017 school year, Kielblock said. The reports in the 2015-2016 and 2014-2015 school years were similar, with 40 and 44 reported violations, respectively.
“The actual number of violations is more than likely higher,” Kielblock said, noting that it's difficult for a bus driver to record the needed information for every violation.
Kielblock said it is hard to pinpoint why motorists disobey the stop arm law. He doesn’t think it’s because people are unaware of the rules.
“I think everyone recognizes a stop sign and a red light,” he said. “It’s a pretty recognizable tool for everyone.”
Kielblock said bus drivers can sometimes recognize if a driver is distracted or does not look likely to stop for the bus. In those instances, the driver will delay opening the bus door to ensure the safety of the children.
Kielblock said it’s not only the stop arm violation that affects student safety.
Yellow lights begin flashing on the bus prior to it preparing to stop and drop off students. Just as with a yellow traffic light, motorists are supposed to slow down and prepare to stop, he added.
“I can’t tell you how many people speed up instead. I had one just this morning,” Kielblock said Tuesday morning.
Kielblock said that while it’s hoped children won’t run to and from the bus, kids will be kids.
“They’re not always attentive,” he said. “They see the bus coming and they’re anxious to get on the bus and their focus is getting home or on the playground, so it’s really up to all motorists to pay attention and be alert.”
A new speed limit is also being enforced this year to help make the school zone near the Middle School safer for students, Wiltrout said.
On North Crailsheim and Nobles County 35, the speed limit is 30 mph between 7 and 8 a.m. and between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. Speeding fines are doubled in the school zone.
The 30 mph limit immediately before and following school hours is a reduction from 40 mph. The speed limit returns to 40 mph outside of the restricted times.
Wiltrout said the speed zone is approximately 2,000 feet.
“Lowering the speed from 40 mph to 30 adds 11 seconds to your commute,” Wiltrout said. “It’s nothing.”