Would a 6-foot stop arm on school buses make students more safe?
A recent bill introduced would require all new school buses to be equipped with a 6-foot stop arm to keep motorists from driving around the bus.
ALEXANDRIA — Every time a car proceeds through a school bus stop arm when it's extended is cause for concern. In the Alexandria School District already this year, there have been about 20 reported stop arm violations, according to Transportation Director Scott Dahlin.
"There are more that we didn't get to report as we were unable to get a clear license plate from the car," said Dahlin.
A bill introduced by state Sen. Rich Draheim seeks to further deter motorists from driving around a stopped school bus. Senate File 241 would require all newly purchased school buses to have an extended stop arm. Currently, school buses have stop arms that reach out about 18 inches. Under the bill, however, the stop arm would extend out 6-feet.
Osakis Superintendent Randy Bergquist believes the proposed bill would help as he said the Osakis School District continues to have a number of stop arm violations.
"For bus drivers, this is very hard to enforce because when they stop the bus, they have to watch the children coming down the aisle, checking the school bus surroundings, and then trying to get the license plate number of the vehicle making the infraction," Bergquist said. "Then, the bus driver is supposed to call the license plate into the district office, who then, in turn, is supposed to call law enforcement. It is a tough process."
Dahlin said the bus driver's first responsibility is to watch the students. He said they train to activate their lights and then try to keep the students in the bus until they are assured cars have stopped. He also said students are instructed to wait for a signal from the bus driver before crossing the street. Where practical, Dahlin said drivers route the bus so the least amount of students cross on busier roads.
As for whether the new 6-foot arms are a good idea or not, Dahlin said he would like to see more data. He has concerns on how they would really work in Minnesota, especially during Minnesota winters.
"The ice and snow build up on the bus, and the fact buses, like ours, don't get to park in heated garages at night to thaw out. With that said, I would like to see it tested in real winter conditions, before making it law," he said. "Many districts, like ours, already have some of our buses that have additional red lights at eye level to gain drivers attention."
Bergquist said that a 6-foot stop arm wouldn't stop everyone, but he said it wouldn't hurt to have something that is more visible for all drivers.
"Any items that protect our students, whether in the classroom, on school grounds, or on the bus are worthwhile to me," he said in an email to the newspaper. "Unfortunately, for those idiots that go around the stop-arm, I think of the saying, 'You can't fix dumb.' Hopefully, with the 6-foot stop arm sign more easily seen, these people might think twice about going around."
Lt. Brian Reu with the Minnesota State Patrol said that the new bill is not a State Patrol led initiative, but that the State Patrol is supportive of efforts to increase students' safety during the loading and unloading process.
"Anytime someone fails to stop for a school bus with flashing red lights and an extended stop arm, there is a potential for a tragic outcome," he said.
Reu also said that Minnesota participates in a national survey where violations for one day are reported. He said that on April 13, 2022, Minnesota school bus drivers reported 1,003 stop arm violations.
Cheryl Meyers with the Alexandria Police Department said that the police department had 20 stop arm violations between Sept. 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022. According to Lacey Grinager with the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, there were seven reported violations in the county during that same time frame.