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Kansas won’t pass camera law for drivers passing stopped school buses

Vaseline 4 weeks ago

Education officials estimate that in Kansas, about 1,000 drivers illegally pass a stopped school bus every day as it picks up or drops off children.

“If a student is getting on or off the bus at that time, we consider that to be the most dangerous time,” said Keith Dreiling, director of bus safety for the Kansas State Department of Education. “Because when they’re on the bus, they’re protected on the bus, but as soon as they leave the bus, we’re going to have problems.”

But with the Legislature failing to act on a proposal to help law enforcement crack down on violators of the state’s stop gun law, the Kansas State Board of Education is seeking a regulatory change in an effort to make it safer to load and unloading a bus.

Lawmaker: Speaker of the House of Representatives canceled hearing on a school bus safety bill

In September 2020, 7-year-old Cecilia Graf was murdered on her way to school in Abilene. The Dickinson County Sheriff’s Office said Graf was crossing the street to board her bus, which was stopped with its lights flashing, when a 15-year-old high school student struck the girl.

During the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers considered House Bill 2154 to allow cameras on school buses to be used by law enforcement to impose civil fines of $250 on drivers who illegally pass a stopped bus. Educators and law enforcement officials testified in support, while no one opposed it.

“We currently have no provisions in state law that would allow civil penalties to be imposed through video cameras,” said Rep. Scott Hill, R-Abilene. “Other states do that. Kansas never started it.”

The bill made it out of committee, but never received a vote in the full House. It emerged from committee again in 2022, but did not receive a vote in the House of Representatives.

Hill reintroduced the idea in 2023 with House Bill 2251. It didn’t get a hearing last year or this year, and it’s now dead because it didn’t move forward within a legislative deadline.

More: Cameras could monitor how you run a school bus stop sign, under proposed Kansas House bill

“I had a hearing scheduled on it, but the hearing was canceled,” Hill told the state board in March. “It took me a while to figure out exactly what was going on.”

What he found is that “the biggest problem comes back to an invasion of people’s privacy, and people are nervous about that.”

Hill said House Speaker Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, has decided to cancel the hearing. A spokesperson for Hawkins did not respond to a request for comment.

“They’re not comfortable with pursuing civil penalties. They need to watch some more of these videos of people riding buses,” Hill said, referring to videos of drivers illegally passing school buses. “A thousand times a day is shocking.”

Hill vowed to reintroduce the bill next year if he is re-elected this fall. In the meantime, Hill suggested that schools might be able to put cameras on buses and then post videos on Facebook to publicly shame violators.

“I don’t know if this is possible, but in many cases people being embarrassed on social media can be a stronger deterrent than the $250 you just pay and it goes away,” Hill said. ‘Maybe we can do something. We need to make this a bigger deal before another child is affected.”

Could changes in state regulations make bus stops safer?

With no action from the Legislature on the camera bill, the state Board of Education hopes that changing regulations on bus routes and pick-up and drop-off areas will alleviate the dangers children face.

Earlier this month, the board received a proposal to change school bus safety regulations. That leaves the board likely to vote next month on whether to move forward with the formal regulatory approval process.

Scott Gordon, general counsel for the Kansas State Department of Education, said the change would add a requirement that the local transportation supervisor, if practicable, “avoid establishing stops that require students to cross a roadway.”

That change would ensure that buses, if they aren’t already, would stop on the same side of the road as where they pick up or drop off students.

“It reflects the guidance we already provide to school districts,” Gordon said. “This just makes it a little bit stronger by specifically putting it in the regulations.”

State Assemblyman Jim Porter, R-Fredonia, described it as making sure the bus stops in the safest place.

The regulatory change would attempt to make a difference in an area over which schools have control, but would not address driver behavior.

“It seems like we need to address the driver, the adult and the people behind the wheel of the car,” said board member Michelle Dombrosky, R-Olathe.

How often do drivers pass illegally stopped school buses in Kansas?

“The most dangerous time for students is when they get on and off the bus,” said Dreiling, director of bus safety.

This is largely because drivers do not stop for the stop arm.

Every year, the Ministry of Education collects data on gun rule violations at school bus stops. The data is collected in one day by participating schools.

During the April 2023 survey, 2,857 buses from 223 participating Kansas school districts reported 676 stop gun violations.

That was down from the recent high of 1,040 stop gun violations in 2019, but many more buses also participated and reported violations that year.

The 2023 count included 18 instances of drivers passing on the right side of the bus.

“Twenty-eight years as a state trooper, I enforced stop gun violations,” Dreiling said. “However, until I took this job, I had no idea there were vehicles passing school buses on the right.”

In 2022, the one-day survey recorded 46 times drivers passed on the right side of a stationary bus.

“It just makes us terrified that something really bad could happen because that’s where all the kids normally are before they get on the bus,” Dreiling said.

No new figures are yet available for the 2024 survey, which was conducted on Wednesday.

Education officials review videos of gun stop violations

During meetings in March and April, the state board reviewed several videos of gun stop violations.

Dreiling showed video from Minnesota, where a semi was passing on the shoulder to the right when a bus stopped in front of a house. According to him, the judge sentenced the truck driver to one year in prison.

“This is a very, very serious issue,” said Hill, the Abilene representative. “And when you saw that video of the semi blowing by, you realize that was within an inch of taking someone’s life.”

In Kansas, similar bus videos cannot be used to fine or prosecute drivers because state law generally requires law enforcement officers to personally observe a violation. But buses can still record videos.

During the April meeting, Dreiling showed a $450 video from Sept. 13, 2023, of Shawnee Heights, where a bus stops on SE 29th Street, just west of SE Croco Road.

A Ford F-150 then passes the bus as the driver stops. The lights are already activated, but the stop arm is not fully extended yet. Then more and more vehicles pass in the opposite direction.

In that area, SE 29th Street has four lanes plus a turning lane. In that situation, it is illegal under Kansas law for either side of the road to pass a stopped school bus.

An August 25, 2023, video from southeast Saline ($306) shows a pickup truck initially stopping in front of the bus with its stop arm extended and lights flashing. After about five seconds the driver passes anyway.

“He’s getting tired of waiting, or whatever,” Dreiling said.

Dreiling also showed three videos of Easton $449.

One was a video from Nov. 14, 2023, in Easton, showing children emerging from a home and about to cross a two-lane highway to board a school bus. Then a pickup truck passes two school buses – which was illegal because at least one school bus had its stop arm extended and because the highway had a double yellow line.

Leavenworth County Sheriff’s Deputy Justin Green, the Easton school resource officer, has found a way to issue citations to violators in some cases. He said the district attorney will allow the citations: “As long as I have my body camera on and I get a guilty plea.”

In that November case, Green used the videos to find out who the driver was, called him while recording on his body camera, and the driver admitted to breaking the law.

“His excuse was that he was about to run out of gas, so that’s why he passed,” Green said.

He issued three tickets to that driver, one for each of the buses he passed and one for passing in a no-passing zone.

“Eventually they’ll be smart about it and stop admitting guilt,” Green said.

‘It says there is a reason to stop’

“We always tell schools that student safety is the most important thing,” Dreiling said. “They’re carrying our most important resource that we have, a special cargo: our children. That’s why we always remind them that it’s always about the children and the safety of the children who are on the bus.”

Edgar Arroyo, a school bus driver and trainer with Kansas Central Bus Service, told The Capital-Journal that “part of our training is to always make sure the students are okay and that there is no threat around them before they load.”

As a driver whose Sheldon Head Start route has several stops at Gage and Fairlawn, I “see that a lot” where traffic illegally passes his stopped school bus. He supports the idea of ​​a law allowing cameras on buses so that police can fine violators.

“That would be great,” he said. “Because that way we know there is something there to support us, and in case something happens.”

He also thinks changes to regulations on bus routes and loading zones could be effective, especially if it meant picking up and dropping off children closer to home.

Zytaya Bush, who walked with her son to a bus stop in southeast Topeka, also liked the camera idea.

“I think the traffic cameras are a great idea for the safety of the children, the bus and everyone in the area,” Bush said. “Because if cars don’t stop when the buses stop, it creates a safety risk.”

“I’ve seen cars pass buses, I’ve seen it when the stop sign is out,” Bush added, urging drivers in a hurry to leave early. “It says there is a reason to stop.”

Evert Nelson, of The Topeka Capital-Journal, contributed reporting.

Jason Alatidd is a Statehouse reporter for The Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached by email at [email protected]. Follow him on X @Jason_Alatidd.