Archive for Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Too often, drivers ignore school bus laws

March 30, 2005

Denise Baker saw the stop sign pop out from the school bus, its lights flashing.

Baker stopped, but the vehicle behind her did not.

"All I know is I'm thinking you're supposed to stop for a stopped school bus and then I got whacked," Baker said.

The accident occurred just after 7 a.m. March 14 about four miles east of Tonganoxie on U.S. Highway 24-40. Baker, traveling east on U.S. 24-40, was in the inside lane. A Tonganoxie school bus was pulled over to the right shoulder, ready to pick up children from a residence just south of the highway. From behind, a vehicle driven by a Lawrence woman rear-ended Baker.

According to Shari Curry, Tonganoxie school district bus supervisor, people ignore bus safety rules repeatedly, whether at that location or others throughout the district.

¢ If a school bus has its stop-sign arm out, drivers are required to stop. Flashing lights accompany the sign as a warning that the bus is stopped and children are getting on or off the bus.

¢ On a four-lane divided highway, only traffic traveling the same direction as the bus are required to stop for the bus. On all other highways, drivers are required to stop for the school bus.

"Oh yes, it happens a lot," Curry said. "I think they're just not very observant.

"We have talked to some people and they were not aware of that. That was one of their (driver's license) test questions. I'm not sure how they got it right."

According to state law, Curry said, when a school bus stops on a divided four-lane highway and has its stop arm out and lights flashing, drivers are required to stop -- if they're traveling the same direction. Because there is a median, as is the case on U.S. 24-40 east of Tonganoxie, traffic isn't required to stop in the oncoming lanes. On a four-lane highway that's not divided, all traffic must stop. It is legal to drop children off on a four-lane that's not divided, but Curry said Tonganoxie buses won't allow students to cross traffic on a four-lane road.

Although some drivers don't obey the law where Baker's accident occurred, Curry is most concerned with two other stretches of highway -- Kansas Highway 16 west from Tonganoxie and U.S. Highway 24-40 south to Lawrence. On both two-lane highways, which hardly have shoulders, children are getting on buses from both sides of the highways.

"One of these days someone is going to fly through there and it's going to be bad news," Curry said. "And once again it's because people are just not paying attention.

"Or they just don't want to take the time to stop in the morning. It's a bigger problem in the morning -- people are trying to get to work."

That might have been the case in Baker's accident. It was early in the morning when Baker headed to work in Kansas City. She usually doesn't head to work at that particular time, but when she saw the bus signals engaged, she slowed down and stopped.

Baker was driving a 1988 Lincoln Town Car when the accident occurred. The impact pushed Baker's trunk to the back window.

"I'm glad I was not in a little dinky car," Baker said. "I was bruised real bad on my legs."

An injury to her right wrist requires physical therapy as well. Baker learned Monday that the other driver involved in the accident does not have insurance.

Baker hopes law enforcement officials will monitor bus stops, especially the one where her accident occurred. She thought the county could make some money by issuing tickets to drivers who didn't stop for buses.

And if Baker approaches a bus at that stop again in the future, she plans to pull over onto the right shoulder and wait for all the traffic to get past her before she gets back on the road.

"It kind of rattled what little brains I have left," Baker said.

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