Sheriff emphasizes back-to-school safety

Dubois County Sheriff

Sheriff Tom Kleinhelter

Children in our community have begun returning to school, which means we will start seeing school buses on our roadways. As your sheriff, I want to encourage everyone to be careful and to follow the school bus stop arm laws, so our kids get to and from school safely.

School bus traffic rules are simple, but vary depending on the style of the roadway:

Two-Lane Roadways: If a school bus stops on a two-lane road and the red flashing lights are activated with the stop arm extended, all motorists MUST stop.

Multi-Lane Roadways with NO Barrier between Lanes: When a school bus stops on a multi-lane roadway without a barrier and the red flashing lights are activated with the stop arm extended, motorists in all lanes MUST stop.

Multi-Lane Roadway with a Grassy and/or Concrete Barrier: When a school bus stops and the red flashing lights are activated with the stop arm extended, only vehicles behind the bus MUST stop. Vehicles that are approaching from the opposite side are NOT required to stop, but should be cautious.

In 2018, three children in Rochester, Indiana, were tragically killed and another seriously injured by a motorist who did not stop as she approached a school bus stop arm. The children were struck as they were crossing the road to get on the bus. This tragedy prompted changes to state law that now require school corporations to avoid stopping on highways, to pass through neighborhoods when possible, and to plan routes so that all pick-ups and drop offs are on the same side of the road as the bus entrance. Even with these important law changes, motorists should always be alert throughout the school year for school buses and our students.

Drivers who illegally pass a stopped school bus can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000. If that action injures someone, the offense rises to a Level 6 felony, punishable by six months to two-and-a-half years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Recklessly passing a stopped bus and killing someone is a Level 5 felony, carrying a one- to six-year prison sentence and up to $10,000 in fines.

Courts also have the ability to suspend driving privileges for someone who violates the stop-arm law. Driving privileges can be suspended for 90 days or for up to one year for repeat offenders.

Stop-arm violators, though, are notoriously hard to catch. Bus drivers are often the only witnesses, and it’s hard for them to collect the information necessary to charge a driver. Drivers are worried about getting kids safely on and off their buses, and not focused on catching the license plate numbers of bad motorists. Lawmakers recently gave school districts new avenues to seek funding for stop-arm cameras that will take pictures of drivers that pass them and the license plates on their vehicles. They also made it easier for that evidence to be used to bring charges against drivers in violation of the law.

Parents can help ensure the safety of their children by teaching them how to safely board the bus. The Indiana State Police has these tips for parents and students:

• Have your children put everything they carry into a backpack or school bag so that they won’t drop things along the way.

• Attach a piece of high visibility fluorescent or reflective material to their clothing or backpack.

• Make sure your child stands at least 6 feet (three giant steps) from the road while waiting for the bus.

• If children must cross the street to the bus, remind them to wait for the driver to signal that it’s safe to cross.

As we travel the roads together this school year, let’s all be mindful of the rules, be careful, and do our part to help get kids safely to and from school. The Dubois County Sheriff’s Office will continue to work to protect the children of our community in every way possible, including awareness, education and enforcement of school bus stop arm laws.

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