Police ticket drivers who illegally pass school buses
Seeing more yellow around Steamboat Springs is a clear sign that summer is coming to an end.
While the leaves aren’t changing quite yet, yellow school buses have been back on the roads for a few weeks, and with them, many motorists are choosing to flout state law and drive around the buses as students get on and off.
“Every time that somebody drives through a stop sign is an opportunity that a kid is seriously injured or worse,” said Casey Ungs, transportation manager for the Steamboat Springs School District. “Most stops, we are done with our bus stop in under 20 seconds, so what we’re asking the public to do is not a big ask.”
The problem isn’t new.
Ungs sounded the alarm about increased instances of people illegally driving around stopped buses last year, but the problem persists. He’s recorded almost a dozen instances in the first few weeks of school, and Sgt. Shane Musgrave of the Steamboat Springs Police Department said authorities have issued a couple citations so far.
It’s a problem across the country as well. This spring, about 22% of all school bus drivers in the U.S. — including those in Steamboat — participated in a one-day survey to report instances of drivers passing school buses with their stop sign extended.
The nearly 80,000 participating bus drivers across 34 states reported 51,593 vehicles passing buses illegally. When extrapolated out for all buses over a 180-day school year, there are roughly 41.8 million instances of this per year, the survey showed.
“Unfortunately, illegal passings of stopped school buses are at an epidemic level,” said Pat McMananom, president of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, the group behind the survey. “Too often the safety of our nation’s children is put into question simply because motorists are either not paying attention or are in a hurry.”
In Steamboat, the district buses about 1,000 students to and from school, with the large majority of those being younger children because most high schoolers find other methods to get to school, Ungs said.
“We’re on the same roads at pretty much the same times every day,” Ungs said. “When you see one, your natural inclination should be, ‘This bus is going to stop, and I should be ready to stop,’ and not, ‘I’m going to try and speed around the bus.’”
Colorado law requires drivers to stop at least 20 feet back when a bus extends its foldout stop sign. Vehicles traveling in the opposite direction are required to stop too.
The only time a car wouldn’t need to stop is if the bus is headed the opposite direction on a divided highway, meaning a road where opposite lanes are separated by a barrier or unpaved section. Cars traveling in the opposite section are still advised to proceed with caution.
The district’s buses have video recording equipment that captures surroundings before and after a stop, and Ungs said the district is working with police to track down drivers who break the law.
“Most of the time, through that video surveillance, we are able to get license plates,” Musgrave said. “From there, we’ll do an investigation, and if we determine who the driver is at the time, we’ll issue them a citation.”
Failing to stop for a school bus is a misdemeanor traffic offense that garners a fine between $150 and $300 and/or imprisonment for between 10 and 90 days. A second offense within five years could lead to a larger fine and longer jail time.
There are problem areas like in Old Town Steamboat near the Boys and Girls Club, Hilltop Road and along Walton Creek Road, though Ungs said it is a problem pretty much anywhere buses go.
It happens outside of Steamboat on county roads as well.
“The last one was out on (Routt County Road) 14 near Big Valley Ranch,” Ungs said. “We’re an equal opportunity offender in our community.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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