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Cameras coming to school buses to catch stop arm violators

Stop-arm violations put kids at risk but continue to occur in the Brainerd lakes area.

Kids swarm around buses in a parking lot.
Brainerd school kids switch buses Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, at the Brainerd High School.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — Those who put children at risk by violating school bus stop arm laws just might find themselves caught on camera.

With the help of the Brainerd Lakes Toward Zero Deaths Coalition, Reichert Bus Service received a grant to purchase 64 stop arm cameras to help identify those behind the wheel who ignore the stop sign and red flashing lights intended to warn motorists of students boarding or exiting the bus.

The goal is to give law enforcement another tool to stop an upward trend of motorists ignoring school bus stop arms.

Days are getting shorter, the temperature is dropping and school is back in session, meaning kids are out at their bus stops early in the morning waiting to go to school.

One of the most dangerous parts of that trip — getting on and off the bus — does not need to be, but according to law enforcement in the Brainerd lakes area and officials with Reichert Bus Service, which provides transportation for Brainerd Public Schools, it's still a big concern.

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“Most of the bus arm violations that we see are generally avoidable,” said Matt Maier, the assistant chief for the Baxter Police Department. “People just aren't paying attention.”

According to data provided by the Brainerd Police Department, during the 2021-22 school year, the department received seven complaints of stop arm violations and has averaged 7.75 violations a year since the 2018-19 school year.

One of the best things people can do is slow down in the mornings, afternoons and when they see a bus, said John Davis, deputy police chief for the Brainerd Police Department. Davis also asked residents to be extra vigilant as students travel to and from bus stops.

“Be mindful of the school buses, and, of course, school buses stopping to let children on and off,” Davis said. “But also to be aware, even when a school bus is not in sight, that children are now out on the roadway. Whether that's walking to school, standing at a bus stop or walking to and from a bus stop.”

Maier agreed with slowing down during the commute as it gives a driver more time to see and react to any changes happening on the roadway, along with watching out for kids who may not be visible.

“I would encourage people to be aware of their surroundings,” Maier said. “Look for kids that are out on the ground or out on the road waiting.”

Davis encouraged those kids waiting for the bus to follow a few safety precautions as well, such as stepping away from the roadway while waiting for their bus.

Anytime between the hours of 6:30-8:30 a.m. and 2:30-5 p.m., buses are on the road, said LC Baier, general manager at Reichert Bus.

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“We've had a couple of stop arm violators this week where they have actually passed the bus on the right side — that's a huge no-no,” Baier said. “That's where the kids are exiting from.”

One kid runs past a couple of slower kids to get to the bus.
Students switch buses at the high school parking lot Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, in Brainerd.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

When the amber flashing lights are on, it is an indication to slow down and prepare to stop. The red flashing lights with the extended stop signal arm are an indication and a legal requirement to stop and not pass a school bus. The law states vehicles should stop at least 20 feet away from the bus. Vehicles can continue when the flashing lights are off and the stop signal arm is retracted.

Motorists violating the law can receive a misdemeanor violation for passing the school bus. If there are children outside of the school bus, then the penalty is enhanced to a gross misdemeanor offense. The owner of the vehicle can receive a petty misdemeanor if the driver of the vehicle during the time of the violation can’t be verified.

Just as concerning as those waiting for the bus in the city are those who are waiting for their bus in the rural areas of Crow Wing County, said Lt. Craig Katzenberger with the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office.

Katzenberger said motorists can be caught off guard in rural areas as they might not expect to come upon a bus outside of the city. Motorists in rural areas are encouraged to slow down as there may not be an area for students to stand back off the road.

When traveling through the county during harvest season, Katzenberger also reminded drivers to pay attention to the moving of farm equipment or slow-moving vehicles that may be out on the road this time of year.

When and where to stop

  • Stop at least 20 feet from the bus, whether behind it or approaching it from the opposite direction. This is true for two-lane roads and two-lane roads with a turning lane in the middle.
  • On four-lane roads, always stop when behind the bus. If approaching from the opposite direction, stop unless there’s a median or concrete barrier in the middle.

Remember that it’s the bus driver who determines whether it’s safe to drive again. So even if the child is safely on the sidewalk, stay put until the bus driver puts the stop arm back in.
Source: Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

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TIM SPEIER, staff writer, can be reached on Twitter @timmy2thyme , call 218-855-5859 or email tim.speier@brainerddispatch.com .

Tim Speier joined the Brainerd Dispatch in October 2021, covering Public Safety.
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