Watch out for the flashing red lights on the school buses. That means stop, from every direction, cautions Lt. Brandon Wright with the patrol division of the Hays Police Department.


As K-12 schools in Ellis County start up this week, there will be a lot of the yellow Unified School District 489 buses on the roads, as well as those of Holy Family Elementary and Thomas More Prep-Marian.


A school bus with flashing red lights, and in some cases an extended stop sign, signifies the bus is taking on students or dropping off students, Wright said Tuesday during a news briefing at Hays City Hall, 1507 Main.


"You must stop, whether you are passing that from either direction," Wright said.


Sometimes drivers coming toward the bus in the lane across the street aren’t sure, and go ahead and proceed, he noted.


"But if the red lights are flashing on the bus, you must stop in both directions," said Wright. "You have to stay there until the red lights are turned off, or the bus goes driving off."


The Kansas Legislature a few years ago increased fines on ignoring the flashers. Wright explained that the first offense is now a $315 fine, plus $100 court costs. A second offense in five years is a $750 fine, plus $100 court costs; and a third offense is a $1,000 fine, plus $100 court costs.


A couple of Kansas cases in the news last year told of drivers hitting children after passing a stopped school bus, he said.


"Be very cognizant when you see a school bus anywhere," Wright said.


HPD school safety tips


Wright’s round-up on school safety on Tuesday included his reminder that the Hays Police Department will be patrolling the school zones, where speed limits are lowered to 20 miles an hour.


Expect a big increase in traffic, especially in the mornings and the afternoons around 3 p.m. as school is in and out of session, Wright said. He noted there will be lots of vehicles dropping off, and lots of pedestrian traffic, with children walking, biking, taking the bus and getting in and out of vehicles.


Wright advised staying off the phones, and being vigilant.


"Children are very unpredictable. They can pop out from behind cars or buses or alleys, just anywhere," he said. "They’re often not paying attention. They’re excited about getting to school and playing with their friends."


Speeding ticket fines are double in school zones, he said.


Drivers should be aware of no-parking zones, as well as not double parking. People dropping off kids should let them out at the school, curbside, near a sidewalk, or at crosswalks, so they don’t cross unprotected lanes of traffic.


He advised helping young kids by going over their route to school ahead of time, and have them take the same route every day. They should be taught the basic rule of look both ways before crossing, and the meanings of traffic signals and signs.


"Tell them to watch alleys and driveway access," Wright said.


Kids riding bikes should wear their helmets.


Other cautions apply too, he said.


"They shouldn’t talk to people they don’t know," said Wright. "Report anybody who approaches them, or offers them anything, candy. It’s best that they exercise safety in numbers, walk to school with siblings or friends."


If a child isn’t coming straight home from school, figure out where they will be and what time they should be home, and have them check in with someone when they get out of school, he advised.


Because schools have increased their security in recent years, Wright reminds anyone entering schools to go through the main entry and check in with the office.


"It’s important for everybody to plan ahead, slow down and take extra time, especially if your normal routes are going to take you through a school zone or school areas," Wright said. "Be sure you pay attention to the road ... Don’t rush if you’re running late. It’s not worth it."