Experts warn dangers of ignoring school buses
ESCANABA — Local school bus officials and law enforcement remind residents to be aware of school buses and to stop when the bus’ lights are flashing — failing to do so is against the law.
According to the Michigan Vehicle Code, “The operator of a vehicle overtaking or meeting a school bus that has stopped and is displaying two alternately flashing red lights located at the same level shall bring the vehicle to a full stop not less than 20 feet from the school bus and shall not proceed until the school bus resumes motion or the visual signals are no longer actuated.”
Dale McKnight, general manager of McKnight Transportation in Escanaba, said the issue of vehicles passing when bus lights are activated has been an outstanding problem in the area.
“It’s always been an issue, but it never gets addressed,” he said.
McKnight explained it’s very dangerous for someone to pass when flashing bus lights are on lights as children are getting on or off and crossing into traffic. If a motorist ignores the lights, a child could get struck by a vehicle.
To avoid an accident, motorists can take note of when a bus is preparing to stop by the lights that flash when the school bus is preparing to stop.
Amy Cseter, director of operations at Escanaba Area Public Schools, said the different colored school bus lights determine what is happening during the dropping of a student(s).
Cseter noted when the bus is preparing to stop and drop a student off, it puts on amber lights about 200 feet before the actual stop to warn drivers to slow down and prepare to stop. Next comes the red flashing lights, with the addition of a stop sign coming out from the side of the bus, telling drivers coming from the front of the bus as well as the back to halt, said Cseter.
Cseter’s biggest concern with people running bus lights is motorists don’t know which way the students are getting off — whether they are exiting from the side or making their way around the front of the bus.
“Be very cautious and aware, and stop,” said Cseter.
On the legal end of the issue, Escanaba Public Safety Officer Brian Madalinski said if someone sees another motorist passing school bus lights to contact police, adding the more detailed description the caller can give of the motorist and vehicle involved, the better. This includes the gender of the driver, what kind of vehicle was being driven, location of the incident and license plate number.
Madalinski noted it is very important not be distracted while driving, giving the advice of “drive like your kid lives in the area.”
“You’ve got to be focused while driving,” said Madalinski, adding school bus drivers are in charge of 30 plus kids on a typical route and trusting them with the children’s safety is only half of the battle — motorists have to respect buses and their regulations as well as regular traffic rules.
“It’s general safety,” he said, noting buses have lights for a reason and advises motorists to give them plenty of space when stopping.
Madalinski said if a driver is found in violation of the law, they can be given a traffic citation.