By Kathy Brown and Meghan Peterson, PhD.
School is in session. And that means school buses are out in full force, which also means that drivers need to exercise even greater caution, care and patience when it comes to school buses making their various stops on our well-traveled roads both here in Haddam and elsewhere.
In our state, the law (specifically, Connecticut General Statute 14-279) requires that the operator of any vehicle or motor vehicle stop at least 10 feet from the front or rear of a school bus when the bus is displaying flashing red lights. Thus, it is mandatory for Connecticut drivers to stop when a school bus has its flashing RED lights on, and its stop sign activated. This requirement applies to drivers in either direction. In other words, whether a driver is approaching the school bus from the other way or following it, stopping is a must. According to the website of the Connecticut General Assembly, passing a bus carries a whopping $465 fine for a first offense. For each subsequent offense, the penalty is a fine of $500 to $1,000, up to 30 days in jail, or both. In addition, the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) assesses four points against the driver’s license of any motorist for each violation of this law. Such legislation in the Nutmeg State is not unique. In fact, broadly speaking, state traffic laws:
“are fully or partially adopted in conformity with the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances’ Uniform Vehicle Code, which was written and recommended as a national standard for traffic laws.”
To be sure, illegally passing a school bus carries quite a regime of penalties. According to Haddam Resident Trooper Enrico Milardo, “school bus drivers will make official reports and forward vehicle information including license plates of violators to DMV and State Police.”
But the penalties pale in comparison to the fact that such actions can also place our community’s youth in serious danger. Experienced school bus drivers emphasize this point over and over again.
Various school bus drivers in the district spoke with Haddam-KillingworthNow.com on condition of anonymity, due to restrictions in work contracts.
“We are carrying the most precious cargo out there,” one school bus driver who has been driving school buses in Regional School District #17 for over 10 years. “We are rolling traffic lights, [and] people need to respect that.” The school bus operator goes on to say that most drivers around town are very cautious and patient when it comes to driving near school buses. But they also note that “there are occasions when certain drivers feel that getting where they need to go is more important than safety, trying to pass a bus, tailgating, [or] trying to speed up before the red lights come on.” On this point, they estimate that “as far as how often someone blatantly goes through my lights, [it] is probably an average of once every few months.”
One driver who has been driving in the District for over a dozen years observes that they have townspeople drive through their flashing lights “regularly.” In fact, they explain that some people will drive up to the “edge of lawns just to zoom through my yellows…yellow means STOP, [n]ot nail the gas pedal!” Furthermore, they state that Connecticut law requires drivers to stop 10 feet before the bus stop and that “bus drivers can fill out the driver’s vehicle info and plate number and submit it to DMV.” At that point, “DMV then either sends them a warning or a ticket.”
Another school bus driver in the area for a couple years says that, “On average, people drive through my lights around three times a week.” Previously, they drove a school bus in another town for several years. In comparing their experience driving in that town, they say the problem of passing stopped school buses appears to be worse in our district.
One common, frequent place people tend to pass school buses with their red flashing lights is at the school(s), where people think that because the bus is unloading, it is therefore safe to pass. This is a misguided and dangerous assumption. Per law, whenever and wherever those red flashing lights are on, the rules apply: people must stop. As one of the school bus operators notes, school zones can become a “disaster” because the “25 mph zone isn’t followed or enforced.” Compounding the problem is that the state of Connecticut has a “no idling” law of three minutes, and the buses “are equipped to shut off after about five minutes.” Connecticut General Statute 14-277(b) prohibits “school bus operators from idling the engines of stopped buses for more than three consecutive minutes, with certain exceptions” (such as traffic conditions, mechanical difficulties, outdoor temperature of below 20 degrees, bus is receiving or discharging passengers on a public highway/road). What ends up happening, as this school bus operator describes, is that “they get mad because someone will allow some of the flow to go in or out…they don’t realize our shut-down and child alarm systems will go off.”
School buses activate their yellow flashing lights to warn other drivers that they are about to make a stop. When this occurs, drivers should anticipate that the red flashing lights will come on shortly thereafter and be prepared to stop. The red flashing lights indicate that the bus is stopped, students are either getting on or off the bus, and they often cross the street to do so. Parents should remind children to pause and look both ways before crossing the street – even if the red lights are activated.
School bus drivers take proactive measures to ensure the safety of their student passengers. One of them explains that “from my perspective, I do not like having a lot of cars behind me when making frequent stops, so I will find safe spots to pull over and clear traffic when possible.” In Haddam, finding such spots may be challenging on certain roads, such as the ever-busy Route 154/Saybrook Road corridor or narrow roads residents know too well are common here in town.
So next time you see that yellow school bus with red flashing lights on…Stop. Be patient. Be considerate of our youth. It is the law. And like the title of Robert McCloskey’s classic children’s book, “Make Way for Ducklings”!
*In just the last week, there were 5 bus stop accidents across the nation, which left a total of 5 children dead, other children and adults either critically or seriously injured. See wfsb.com for its Nov. 1,2018 article “There have been 5 school bus stop accidents across the country this week.”