The Minnesota Department of Public Safety on Tuesday will increase fines for drivers who violate state law by failing to stop for school buses.
The department announced that fines will jump from $300 to $500.
“We want motorists to pay attention around buses,” said Lt. Robert Zak of the State Patrol. “We don’t want to hand out citations. We don’t want anybody to be injured or killed.”
Minnesota law requires drivers to stop at least 20 feet from a school bus that is displaying its flashing lights and stop arm. It applies to drivers behind the bus and approaching from the opposite direction on an undivided road.
In 2016, the department found that 1,318 drivers violated state law by not stopping. Law enforcement authorities counted 8,794 total stop arm violations from 2011 to 2016.
Kevin Bisek, general manager of American Student Transportation/Northstar Bus Lines, said he guarantees the number of arm violations is much higher than is reported.
“Particularly, we see a ton of it in the inner districts or inner cities,” Bisek said. “We have had a couple of our kids get struck from this happening. It is significant.”
American Student Transportation/Northstar Bus Lines drivers transport students for Mounds View, Minneapolis and several other districts.
Bisek said his drivers typically file reports each time a vehicle fails to stop for their bus. They do their best to jot down the license plate and car information to notify police later, he said.
When a bus driver files multiple reports in a neighborhood, Bisek goes to check it out for himself. Once, he said, a driver was filing multiple daily reports in south Minneapolis, so he observed her.
“She was doing everything right at that time of day,” he said of the bus driver. Other drivers, not so much. “People coming from work were driving fast and distracted.”
As part of the School Bus Stop Arm survey, 3,659 bus drivers counted 703 stop arm violations in one day.
Bisek said drivers need more education on how to stop for buses.
“I personally think it needs to be something that is in the driver training manual that is really, really pushed,” he said. “It needs to stop before children are hit.”