by Tom Burch

Cass County Sheriff

We have covered this topic in the past, however, it’s very important information that we should like to share with you again.

It’s back-to-school time and we need to remember to safely share the roads with school buses, pedestrians and bicyclists, along with providing children the necessary knowledge to stay safe at school. Whether children walk, ride their bicycle or take the bus to school, it is extremely important that they — and the motorists around them — take proper safety precautions​.

School bus drivers are skilled professionals who deserve motorists’ cooperation and attention to help them safely do their important, and at times, difficult jobs, every day.  Increased traffic and young people walking to bus stops, riding bikes and getting on and off the bus is a good reminder for everyone to pay attention when traveling, especially during this time of the year.

As school is now in session, it is important for all drivers and motorists to be aware that buses are back on the roads — making stops and delivering kids to schools and activities.

The Cass County Sheriff’s Office is serious about improving roadway safety, along with protecting the safety of students. Law enforcement responds to and investigates school bus stop arm violations and takes them very seriously.

When a school bus is stopped and displaying an extended stop-signal arm and flashing red lights, the driver of a vehicle approaching the bus must stop that vehicle at least 20 feet away from the bus and must not allow their vehicle to move until the school bus stop-signal arm is retracted and the red lights are no longer flashing. A driver who violates this provision is guilty of a misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of not less than $500 (nor more than $1,000) and 90 days in jail.

If the driver of a motor vehicle passes or attempts to pass the school bus on the right hand or passenger side of the bus, or if the driver attempts to pass the school bus on either side when a school child is outside of the bus, the driver is guilty of a gross misdemeanor. Gross misdemeanors are punishable by a fine of up to $3,000 and one year in jail.

Not only do these potential maximum penalties exist, but a peace officer may arrest the driver of a motor vehicle who has violated these provisions if there is probable cause to believe a violation has occurred within the past four hours. If the peace officer cannot locate the driver within that timeframe, the officer’s reports are submitted to the County Attorney’s Office and we then process a criminal complaint that requires the person to come to court. Having to come to court for a violation can be a time-consuming and expensive process. In addition to criminal penalties, a violation of these provisions can lead to driver’s license suspension or revocation. (Cass County Attorney’s Office)

Each year we receive and respond to several instances of Stop Arm Violation reports.  Here is a breakdown by year of the instances that we responded to: 10 in 2016; 12 in 2017; 7 in 2018; and 1 to date in 2019. In several of these instances, citations were issued and prosecuted. About 2,300 Minnesota bus drivers tallied more than 600 stop-arm violations in a single day during a survey that was conducted in April.

We hope that the newly enacted law to prohibit distracted driving with the use of cell phones with hands free use will help lower the number of these instances that are reported.

If you have specific questions that you would like answered in this column or in person, contact me anytime: e-mail tom.burch@co.cass.mn.us; call (218) 547-1424  or (800) 450-2677; or mail Cass County Sheriff’s Office, 303 Minnesota Ave W, P.O. Box 1119, Walker, MN 56484

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