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Ask a Trooper: School bus stops

By Staff | Feb 21, 2014

Q: When meeting a school bus that has stopped to pick up kids on a 4 lane divided highway, does traffic on the other side of the median have to stop?

A: School bus stop arm violations continue to be a challenge in school transportation. Even though the statistics show that students are extremely safe once on the bus, the challenge lies in the ‘danger zone’ between the bus and students’ home.

It’s this ‘danger zone’ that the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Service (NASDPTS) has surveyed over the last few years. The annual survey is non-scientific and voluntary, with 29 states participating in 2013. Iowa was one of those states and showed some eye opening results. In this one-day survey, 1596 Iowa busses participated. Those bus drivers reported 180 violations, once again IN ONE DAY. These are violations of vehicles driving around flashing red lights and extended stop signs into the ‘danger zone’ where our children are crossing the road. Even more appalling is the fact that only 1596 of Iowa’s 4500 school busses participated in the survey. What would the results be if they all participated?

Part of the solution to this problem is education, and the question for this article is a good one. Iowa code section 321.372 governs the pick-up and delivery of students on school busses in Iowa. It states that a school bus may stop on the traveled portion of a public road to pick-up or deliver students to their home when they have activated their yellow and red warning light system properly.

As a review, the bus will activate their yellow flashing lights as they approach a stop location. During this time, traffic behind the bus may not pass and oncoming traffic must slow and be prepared to stop. As the bus reaches the intended stop, it will activate its red flashing lights and extend the stop sign on the center line side of the bus. This requires both directions of traffic to stop.

This rule applies to 2 lane roads as code section 321.372 allows stopped school busses to control only 2 lanes of traffic (the lane occupied by the bus, and the lane immediately to its left). When we apply this law to 4 lane roads, it would not require traffic on the opposite side to stop. In this situation, the student would not be crossing over both directions of traffic, the bus would be required to go around and drop the student on the other side of the median.

I mentioned earlier that education was part of the solution to this problem. The other part is enforcement. It is good to remember that these violations do not have to be witnessed by law enforcement for prosecution. A bus driver is able to file a written report implicating violators. With a hefty fine of up to $675, 30 days in jail, and a 30 day license suspension it would be wise to consider the consequences.

Law enforcement officers across the state investigate stop arm violations on a daily basis. The Iowa State Patrol will continue to provide this important service, providing traffic safety through enforcement and education.