Senate Transportation Committee approves bill to keep children safe at school bus stops

The Senate’s Transportation Committee on Tuesday approved a bill that will crack down on distracted and reckless drivers who ignore school bus stop arms in an effort to make sure kids are always safe when they are at the bus stop.

“If you have seen some of the videos of school bus stop-arm violations, they are impossible to forget,” said Sen. Scott Newman, chairman of the Transportation Committee and the bill’s author. “It’s incredible how many close calls we’ve had, and frankly, it’s remarkable we haven’t had more tragedies. We’ve got to do a better job of protecting kids from these life-threatening incidents.”

The bill increases the number of outward-facing cameras equipped on school buses to catch violators. Violations would be punishable by misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor and a $500 fine for the driver, or a petty misdemeanor and a $300 fine for the owner of the vehicle if the driver cannot be determined. Of each fine, $50 would go to local law enforcement. The remaining revenue would be distributed to school districts.

Each year, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety conducts a one-day survey in which school bus drivers are asked to report stop-arm violations. In 2019, 2,376 drivers reported 625 violations. Over the course of a 170-day school year, that adds up to more than 106,000 stop-arm violations. Only a fraction of Minnesota school bus drivers participated in the survey, so it is likely that 106,000 is on the low-end of total violations.

There are not enough police to enforce the law, and there are even fewer cameras on buses to catch violators. Drivers are able to report violations, but often incidents take place so quickly that drivers are unable to collect the necessary information.