Union County is seeing an increasing number of school bus stop arm violations prompting Tim Kenyon, Union County attorney, to raise an alarm.
The last seven days have seen five stop arm violations, and there have been 24 violations since Sept. 6, 2017.
“As far as I’m concerned,” said Kenyon, “I wouldn’t use the word epidemic casually, but to have 24 of these tickets in the school year, and to have five within the last week to 10 days – to me that is extraordinary. It’s an unusual circumstance and it really may be an epidemic in the traffic world.
“That’s 24 occasions when a child could have been hit by a car and killed,” he added. “And every time one of these violations happens, generally, it would not be one child killed – usually, they are letting more than one child out. This is one of those things where it would be unlikely that only one person would be injured. It would be likely that you would have one child, if not more, severely injured or killed.”
Senate File 2218, the “Keep Aware Driving — Youth Need School Safety Act,” also known as “Kayden’s Law” was signed by former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad in March 2012. Kayden was Kayden Halverson, a 7-year-old girl from Kensett, who, in 2011, was struck by a pickup driven by Aaron Gunderson. Halverson was struck as she was crossing the street to get on the school bus. She was killed instantly.
Passing a school bus with flashing red lights and an extended stop arm is a misdemeanor. The first offense results in the loss of driving privileges for 30 days. For a second offense, the driver would lose driving privileges for 90 days, and the third offense is classified as a serious misdemeanor under which driving privileges would be suspended for 180 days. Other penalties might include fines up to $1,875 and up to one year imprisonment.
“The thing that really gets people’s attention is that there is an automatic license revocation that goes along with it and there are folks that, for lack of a better word, are not aware that that’s in there,” Kenyon said. “As far as the DOT (Department of Transportation) is concerned [the revocation of driving privileges] is mandatory. It is not an issue that we have any direct control over.”
Generally, the citation goes to the owner of the vehicle, Kenyon added, unless there are circumstances that can prove someone else was driving the vehicle.
Creston Community Schools buses are equipped with two cameras that capture stop arm violations. One camera points forward and shows the stop arm is out and functioning properly while the other camera is pointed backward and is equipped to magnify the license plate to the offending vehicle.
“We try to unload the students on the right side,” Bob Beatty, transportation director for Creston Community Schools, said. “We have had some violations out there on Highway 25 where [the children] are crossing the highway. But, the drivers are watching and we’re talking to the kids and letting them know when it’s safe to cross the road, or we don’t let them off the bus until we make sure the cars are stopped.”
Both Beatty and Kenyon said they do not believe the violations are intentional, and that people simply need to pay attention when they are sharing the road with a school bus.
We can’t stop the world from doing stupid stuff,” said Kenyon, “but we can help educate some of those people so that we don’t have a tragedy. That’s really where I would focus my goal here. As a prosecutor, I feel like we need to educate people that there is a danger out there, and we can minimize it or eliminate it completely if we pay attention.”