SHERIDAN — With students back in school and school buses back on the road, drivers are reminded to stop while buses are loading and unloading students. Running a school bus stop sign is illegal for traffic from both directions.
Gov. Mark Gordon recently signed a proclamation designating September as School Bus Safety month in Wyoming.
“The number of drivers illegally passing stopped school buses makes loading and unloading one of the most dangerous parts of a student’s day,” the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association said in a press release.
The WTLA participates in efforts to increase safety for Wyoming’s families and workers, according to its website.
Senate File 80, which passed out of committee during the 2019 legislative session, allows license plate numbers captured from school bus video systems to be used to identify, cite and fine drivers who illegally pass a school bus while the bus is loading or unloading children.
SF 80 says the registered owner of the vehicle captured on video footage will be fined $195. Defenses against a citation include if the vehicle owner did not provide consent to the person driving their vehicle, or if ownership was transferred prior to the violation.
During the 2018-19 school year, in Laramie County School District 1, almost 2,000 illegal school bus passing violations were reported and 5-10 occurred within the first three weeks of the current school year, according to the WTLA press release.
Sheridan County School District 2 records information about illegal school bus passes on one day every February and reports the data to the Wyoming Department of Education, SCSD2 transportation director Shawn Stevens said.
It’s difficult to compile complete data about the frequency of illegal passes in Sheridan County but overall, trends are showing fewer violations, he said.
Stevens said his goal through education and partnerships is to lessen the number of illegal school passes down to zero. Most school buses encounter problems with illegal passes on multi-lane roads, he said.
SCSD2 is partnering with Wyoming Highway Patrol to compile more data, flag problematic areas along routes and reduce incidents of illegal passes.
They started the partnership on the first day of school this year and Stevens said they’re working to continue having WHP vehicles discreetly follow buses on random days during the school year.
The Sheridan Police Department issued 27 citations for illegal school bus passing in 2017, two in 2018 and two so far in 2019.
Sheridan Police Department Lt. Travis Koltiska said SPD started ramping up education and public awareness efforts for school bus safety in 2017. Letting drivers know that all school buses are equipped with camera systems has led many drivers to be more vigilant on the road, he said.
All states in the U.S. have laws that require traffic to stop in both directions when a school bus has its red lights on and stop-arm extended, but Wyoming was the first state to pass legislation requiring cameras be installed in school buses, according to the WTLA.
That legislation was passed in 2014 after an 11-year-old student was killed while crossing a highway and a driver ignored the flashing lights and stop arm of her bus, according to the WTLA. The student’s parents also helped lobby for SF 80 to pass.
Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne — who sponsored SF 80 and was present at the proclamation signing — said she hopes the governor’s proclamation will remind drivers to obey the law and help protect the health and safety of Wyoming’s children.