One video showed a driver barely dodging a young girl as she crossed a street to board her school bus in the dark. Others on display at the Legislature on Tuesday showed motorists ignoring or missing the flashing red lights and stop signs extended from buses.
In a single day last spring, 625 drivers whizzed past Minnesota school buses that had stop signals extended, potentially endangering the students getting on and off. Legislators, who said they were shocked by some of the videos they were shown at a hearing Tuesday, are trying to crack down.
They are considering a proposal to devote $50,000 to educate drivers about the rules.
"Obviously $50,000 isn't enough. You know you got to take baby steps up here," said bill sponsor Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, who said he would like to devote even more money to school bus safety this year or next.
The bill, which has bipartisan support, would direct the state's Department of Public Safety to raise awareness of the need to stop when bus signs are extended and alert people of the penalties for failing to stop. Draheim said he would like to see a full digital marketing campaign with ads on various websites.
But some legislators and safety advocates say it's not just a matter of awareness — people know to stop when a bus signal is out. They just aren't following the law.
"It's lit up like a Christmas tree and they blow by," said Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, as he and other lawmakers and school bus drivers stood alongside a big yellow bus parked in front of the Capitol.
Newman said lawmakers should consider tougher measures such as increasing penalties or adding more cameras on school buses to catch offenders. Drivers who don't stop for a bus face a misdemeanor penalty of $500 or more. The violation can be bumped up to a gross misdemeanor if a child is present in the street or adjacent sidewalk. Relatively few buses currently have cameras to capture such incidents and offenders' license plates. The cost to add the technology is estimated at $300 to $500 per bus.
Draheim said he is kicking around another approach to halt violators: Having the arm that extends from the bus reach out six or eight feet into the opposing lane of the road.
"If we really want to stop people, we need to go out into the other lane of traffic … That would be a game changer, where they physically can't drive," he said.
David White, the transportation director for Edina public schools, told the story of one incident that was not a near-miss.
In White's district a vehicle hit and injured an Edina High School student as she was boarding her school bus in January. The driver drove onto the shoulder on the right side of the bus and hit the girl.
"Violations are occurring every day, putting our most precious cargo at risk," White said.
Last year, 2,360 Minnesota school bus drivers participated in the annual count of stop arm violations compiled by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services. The drivers counted 625 illegal moves, which is similar to past years. That tally means hundreds of thousands of people are likely breaking the law in Minnesota every year.