More than 1,000 motorists illegally passed school buses in Kansas during a one-day test in April to determine willingness of the public to respect stop sign arms and flashing red lights deployed by drivers.
Jim Porter, the southeast Kansas representative on the Kansas Board of Education, said he was alarmed 1,040 of 3,300 buses involved in the survey were improperly passed by motorists. The sample included only three-fourths of the state's districts, he said, but it exposed the recklessness some people have shown for welfare of children standing along roads.
"An appalling thing is that 19 passed on the right side of the bus," he said. "You would have to drive on the curb, the sidewalk or the ditch, in my area of the state, where kids are getting on."
Under Kansas law, all vehicles must come to a halt when approaching a stopped school bus displaying its flashing lights and stop arm. It doesn't matter which direction the driver is headed in relation to the bus. All traffic must pause, whether on a two- or four-lane road. On a divided highway with a median separation, traffic approaching the bus from behind must stop. Motorists have to remain idled until the bus withdraws the stop arm and turns off the flashing light.
Violation of Kansas law endangering children awaiting a school bus would be punishable by a fine and court costs in excess of $420.
Randy Watson, commissioner of the Kansas Department of Education, said a task force was expected to make recommendations to the 2020 Legislature on how to reduce the volume of violations. Existing state law mandates a law enforcement officer witness the infraction, he said. That makes use of video evidence taken by cameras on buses difficult to use.
"We've seen some video clips where kids have narrowly been missed by some high-speed vehicles," Watson said.
In the April survey, 220 districts in Kansas deploying 3,300 school buses reported 1,040 violations by motorists. In April 2018, 214 districts operating 3,347 buses documented 1,030 infractions. Participation in 2017 was lower, with 188 districts and 2,527 buses reporting 691 violations.
Kathy Busch, chairwoman of the Kansas Board of Education, said the Department of Education launched a new public awareness campaign in conjunction with the start of the 2019-2020 school year in an attempt to improve adherence to bus safety laws. It is known as "Stop on Red, Kids Ahead."
"This is really timely," she said. "We've got to have folks really aware and stop for those school buses. There isn't anything more important than getting our kids on and off that bus and to school safely."