STEWARTVILLE, Minn. - Grisim School Bus has been transporting Stewartville students for the last 35 years, but the owners tell KIMT that this school year, they've seen more drivers breaking the law and endangering children getting on and off the bus than ever before.
According to Grisim School Bus's manager Bryan Runkle, the amount of people illegally passing a school bus has recently drastically increased. "In a normal week, we have 1 or 2 but in the past month, we have had maybe 6 to 8, and so that's really increased and it's bothersome to us."
Superintendent of Stewartville Public Schools Belinda Selfors put out a letter on Twitter due to the increase to remind people of the laws and why they're so important to follow. "We're terrified of a student being injured or worse and so what we want to impress upon all of our community members is the importance of making sure that we need to share the road with our school buses and make sure that we're doing everything we can as a community to keep our students safe," she says.
When a school bus's lights are flashing amber, the bus is preparing to stop. It's not illegal to pass a bus at this time, but it's safest to slow down or stop completely. Once the school bus's lights are flashing red and the stop arm comes out, all traffic must stop 20 feet away from the bus, according to Minnesota Statute 169.444. Drivers must stay put until the bus driver retracts the stop arm and the red lights are off.
Grisim's buses are equipped with cameras that record violations. A vehicle's license plate can be found in the footage, or a driver or students can shout out the vehicle's license plate or type of vehicle and the audio is recorded. This footage helps law enforcement track down violaters. "It really is a traffic criminal offense. If you pass through a stop sign, it's a $300 fine and a misdemeanor. Just a few years ago, it did get enhanced to a 500 dollar fine is students are outside of the bus," explains Olmsted County Sheriff's Office Deputy Mike Strelow. If a child is struck while getting off or on the bus, law enforcement will investigate the situation and the driver could face even more consequences.
Deputy Strelow also has advice for parents: "We want to encourage parents to talk to their students about crossing the streets, being safe in that regard, that just because the stop arm is out, they still want to keep on the look out for these drivers out there."
On Stewartville school buses or around the community, you may find signs with a message that Stewartville Public Schools, Grisim School Bus, and the Olmsted County Sheriff's Office are trying to spread: "It's not just a stop sign. It's a child's life."