ST. GEORGE —Repeated incidents of vehicles passing stopped buses when their stop arms are extended has drawn the attention of local law enforcement. It has also gained the attention of state lawmakers, who recently passed a bill through the Utah Legislature increasing penalties on those drivers.
“It’s an issue that’s been going on for a little bit, and we’re not getting a resolution with citing people,” St. George Police Officer Tiffany Atkin said Monday while standing in front of Desert Hills High School with fellow officer Andy Mickelson.
The two highlighted the issue of people not stopping for buses during the Police Department’s weekly “Motor Minute” advisory video shared over social media. They noted a nearby bus stop on 840 East as the site of multiple offenses.
Lots of people run through the area in the morning, Mickelson said, whether it’s parents taking their kids for school or high school students driving themselves. He added that the area also has a spot where a bus stops for students, including some who are disabled.
Under state law, when a school bus stops, turns on the red lights and extendsthe arm with the stop sign, traffic in both directions is meant to stop so students can get on and off the bus from either side of the street without fear of getting run over.
A driver who gets impatient and passes by the bus has the possibility of hitting a student crossing the street.
“The problem is people don’t stop for that school bus, so we’re calling you out and letting you know it needs to stop,” Mickelson said. “The lights on the bus have a special purpose, and that’s to keep the kids who are getting off safe.”
Motorists who think they can get away with passing a stopped bus just because police may not be around won’t necessarily avoid getting caught, Mickelson said. The bus drivers tend to record the license plate number of the offending vehicles for police, along with descriptions of the drivers if possible. This allows the police to find the driver and give them a citation.
“The bus drivers take their job seriously,” Mickelson said.
While the area around Desert Hills High has a problem with bus-passers, Mickelson added that its a common occurrence across the city.
This issue became the focus of a bill designated as HB 84 in the 2020 Utah Legislature, which increases the penalties on motorists who ignore a bus stop sign.
“This is a huge problem in our state,” HB 84 sponsor Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, said while speaking on the House floor earlier this month. “The law is violated way, way too frequently.”
Hall cited a 2019 state study that had bus drivers across Utah count how many times someone blew passed their stop signs during the course of a single day. That one day finished with 900 reported incidents.
“I know it can be frustrating to wait the extra 30 seconds, but we need to remind the drivers that it’s important in order to avoid a possibly horrible, possibly fatal experience,” Hall said.
Younger children who use the bus don’t always pay attention to traffic when crossing the street to either board or leave the school bus, so it’s up to the drivers to pay attention and help keep those children safe, Hall said.
Under Hall’s bill, illegally passing a stopped bus remains a class C misdemeanor yet comes with increased fines and compensatory service hours.
The first offense, which is currently $100, is bumped up to $250 with 10 hours of community service. The second and third offenses, currently $200 and $500 respectively, are raised to $500 and $1,000, with up to 20 and 40 hours attached.
HB 84 passed the House in a 64-10 vote on Feb. 13, with all Southern Utah representatives voting in favor of it except Rep. Phil Lyman. Following its passage in the House, the Senate unanimously passed it last week.
For a complete list of contacts for Southern Utah representatives and senators, click here.
Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2020 Utah Legislature here.
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