School Bus Safety

Bob Brown, assistant director of the Facilities and Transportation Department for Bismarck Public Schools, shows where a new warning will be placed on the back of all Bismarck school buses this year. The red reflective material will say "Unlawful to pass when red lights are flashing."

BISMARCK, N.D. - Bismarck police want to remind drivers that when the bus’s wheels stop going ’round and ’round, so should theirs.

School starts this week, and law enforcement officers and transportation officials want drivers to help keep students safe as they are bused to and from schools.

Sgt. Cody Trom said drivers illegally passing stopped school buses is the bus safety issue that most concerns police. During the 2011-12 school year, Bismarck police wrote 20 tickets for overtaking and passing a school bus.

The ticket is no laughing matter — it adds six points to a driver’s record. Adults begin to face suspensions of driving privileges at 12 points, while drivers younger than 18 have their licenses canceled once they get six or more points.

School bus drivers must turn on red lights and pull out the arm that contains a stop sign 300 feet to 500 feet before stopping to let children off buses. Police remind drivers they must stop when a bus does those things, whether the bus is going the same or opposite way. Bob Brown, assistant director of facilities and transportation for Bismarck Public Schools, said red lettering will be added to the back of buses in Bismarck this year reminding people of the law.

Trom said it’s a safety issue; children coming off the bus could dart across the street. Brown said children are dropped off on the correct side of the street “as much as possible.” In rural areas, children sometimes have to cross the street.

However, Trom pointed out, bus drivers have “no control over what kids do,” no matter where they get off the bus.

Brown said other issues the school district is concerned about include drivers following buses too closely and people pulling out in front of buses.

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“Especially in the wintertime, it’s really hard for a bus to stop when it’s got momentum going. Kids get tossed around,” Brown said, noting that oftentimes drivers who pull out in front of buses or follow too closely are distracted by other things. “Buses are kind of hard to miss, I think. The only other thing we could do is paint them neon green.”

Jamie Olson, spokesperson for the North Dakota Department of Transportation, said 42 wrecks involving school buses were reported in 2011.

Bismarck police also will be working with bus drivers employed with Bismarck Public Schools and Harlow’s Bus Service, making sure they know what is expected of them on the roads and telling them how to report violations they see. Bus drivers often are the ones who report violators of the overtaking and passing a school bus law.

“There are a few who are very, very aggressive with this,” Trom said.

In addition, Trom said, officers plan to watch for violations of the law, and school resource officers may, at some point, ride the buses to help spot people who ignore the stop signals.

“We’ll be actively out there, looking for violators,” Trom said.

In addition to the training from police, Brown said there will be training on health and safety, bullying and other topics. Bus drivers will be attending once-a-month meetings this year to teach them to deal with issues they may encounter on the bus and with students.

“We are proud of our record here at the school district of not having any major injuries, and we’d like to keep it that way,” Brown said. “With the help of the public, we can keep it that way.”

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Reach reporter Jenny Michael at 250-8225 or jenny.michael@bismarcktribune.com.