With new safety equipment and more in-town school bus stops, the Yankton School District’s (YSD) Bus Department will be ready to roll when the new school year opens Monday.
As of Aug. 19, all of YSD’s regular school busses will have a new driver alert system installed. The new tech will alert drivers behind the school busses to stop and not pass while students are unloading.
The devices were brought to the attention of administrators by Tim Engle, bus driver and synovia technician, and Tom Anderson, bus supervisor and mechanic.
"In the last three or four years, we’ve had a lot of stop-arm runners," Anderson said. "We are trying to get video cameras to catch them and get them fined. That’s been working to a certain degree, but we thought maybe there was more to do."
By law, all school busses must have an extendable blinking, red stop sign mounted on the driver’s side of the bus to remind motorists that they must stop until the school bus driver retracts the stop arm.
"The school district is always looking, and they tell us all the time, if you have any ideas or see something, bring it forward," Engle said. "So I came across a Michigan study, looked at it really good and it had some very promising results."
The Michigan study was commissioned after two high school students were killed when a car rear ended a school bus that was stopping.
"In the Michigan study, drivers reported that when they would see a blinking, red light on a stop sign, like the one at Highway 81 and Route 46, they stop and they go." Engle said. "In other cases, the study found that other drivers just didn’t see the lights on the bus because the lights are up high — they’re not at eye level."
Engle researched the subject and found an external, flashing-LED alert system that could be mounted on the rear of the bus. It displays a "Caution Stopping" alert to drivers approaching from the rear of the bus followed by a "STOP Do Not Pass" alert while the bus loads or unloads students. The LEDs can be synced with the other flashing lights on the bus for added effect.
"This (device) popped up, and I looked into it and realized that the state of Michigan mandates it and other states are starting to mandate it," Engle said. "So we decided to do a study. It wasn’t anything super scientific or anything, but for 21 days after we (installed) the sign, we tracked bus R, which is the bus I drive. It stops out on Highway 50 and Belair Drive and Meadow View Drive."
Those particular intersections are in an area where the traffic is changing speed. Just prior to reaching those intersections, traffic in the westbound lanes is decreasing from 55 mph while in the eastbound lanes it is increasing to 55 mph.
"You have a lot of vehicles that haven’t slowed down yet and are still going at a high speed, and there is no other way to do it out there than to stop the bus on the highway," Engle said. "We get a lot of drive-bys on there where vehicles just speed on by."
According to state law, because Highway 50 is divided by a turning lane, all vehicles on the side where the school bus is stopped must also stop and wait for the bus to resume its course. Opposing lanes on a divided highway don’t have to stop, he said.
"These vehicles speeding by can easily get a kid killed," Engle said. "Before we put the device on, we had 17 drive-bys in that 21-day period."
Once the device was installed on the back of the bus, it completely changed the drivers’ actions towards the bus as it came to a stop.
"They used to pull up beside the bus to the stop-arm sign. That stopped. They started staying behind the bus. The passing stopped," Engle said. "In the next 21 days, we only had two drive-bys, which is a significant decrease."
For the final six weeks of the last school year, there was only one more drive-by, Engle said.
The district is installing the LED-alert devices on the 17 busses with regular routes.
The devices will be activated at student pick-up/drop-off points, as well as railroad tracks.
Engle and Anderson remind motorists that they must slow down significantly when the amber alert lights flash "Caution Stopping" and must come to a full stop and wait while the red "STOP Do Not Pass" lights are flashing.
For those drivers that pass the bus anyway, the camera systems installed on YSD’s school busses are recording the entire time the bus is in operation and are set up to capture the passing driver and the license plate. The photographic evidence is then passed on to the sheriff’s office. Fines begin at $150, Engle said.
Also in time for the opening of the 2019-2020 school year, the YSD has added four new stops to the existing 11 in-town school-bus stops.
Starting Monday morning, busses will stop at the following in-town locations:
• 1309 West 30th St. (Behind the Fox Stop), Route C, 7:45 a.m.
• 29th St. & Douglas Ave. (Stops on 29th St) Apple Creek Apts., Route K, 7:45 a.m.
• Piper St. (Behind Bowling Alley), Route D, 7:45 a.m.
• 2112 Green St. (Valley Park Apts.), Route N, 7:45 a.m.
• Goeden Dr. & Locust St. (Stops on Goeden Dr.), Route O, 7:45 a.m.
• 16th St. (Behind Pizza Ranch), Route O, 7:47 a.m.
• 911 Memory Lane (Memory Lane St.), Route Z, 7:45 a.m.
• 301 East 25th St. (Northgate Manor Trailer Court), Route D, 7:50 a.m.
• 807 West St., Route L, 7:21 a.m.
• 410 Linn St. (Trinity Lutheran Church Back Parking Lot), Route L, 7:25 a.m.
• 304 Pine St (Black Steer Parking Lot), Route L, 7:29 a.m.
• 403 Pearl St. (Pathways Shelter), Route L, 7:33 a.m.
• 1014 Cedar St. (United Methodist Church), Route L, 7:37 a.m.
• Birch Road & Peninah St., Route L, 7:42 a.m.
• 1700 Burleigh (Riverview Reformed Church), Route L, 7:45 a.m.
For more information on in-town bussing go to www.ysd.k12.sd.us/apps/pages/Transportation-Busing
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