A state-wide trend of motorists ignoring stop arm warnings on school buses has become prevalent in Gem County as well. Increased fines and more advanced surveillance technology may help curb that trend.
According to Emmett School District transportation supervisor Shauna Davis, there were 348 witnessed bus stop arm violations during the 2018-10 school year. Unfortunately, only 24 of those were officially submitted to law enforcement due to the lack of vehicle or license plate identification.
“Bus drivers have the primary duty of making sure that students safely board or get off the bus,” Davis said. “It is very difficult to keep an eye on the students and the interior of the bus and at the same time record license numbers of vehicles sailing through the extended stop arm.”
Emmett drivers are getting a little help this fall. While most buses are equipped with on-board cameras, exterior cameras focused on the road are now being added to the mix. Video tape is clearly revealing license plates and positive identifications that law enforcement can use to pursue enforcement.
A common misconception in Gem County is that if there is a four lane highway configuration, traffic meeting the school bus is not required to stop for the extended and lit bus signage. While that exemption may apply on full four lane highways, where four lanes exist only to merge or disperse traffic from an intersection stop arm signage must be obeyed. Currently there is no highway segment within Gem County that is exempt from the school bus stop arm rules.
Enforcement of those rules has also received an enhancement this summer. The Idaho Legislature approved a doubling of the fines in a bill that became law in July. The law prescribes a fine of “no less than $200 for a first offense; no less than $400 for a second offense within five years of the prior offense; and no less than $600 for a third offense within five years of two prior offenses.”
Of the 24 cases submitted to law enforcement by ESD last year, only five were actually prosecuted and two resulted in convictions and fines.
Accurate identification and film footage of the violation is expected to greatly increase the enforcement and prosecution capabilities. The Legislature recognized the value of the technology in the fine enhancement bill, designating that all fines collected “in excess of $100 would be paid into the school bus camera fund.”
Davis is hopeful that violations will cease but expects that initially an even greater number of violations will be detected with the cameras.
“We do every thing we can to create our bus routes in a manner where students should rarely, if ever, have to cross the road,” Davis said. “Regardless, the safety of our students is our priority and any stop arm violation is an attack on that safety.”