‘We all, as a community, have to do what’s safest for the kids’

Increase in drivers blowing through bus stop signs in Tama County

A view of approaching the front of a school bus, the bus driver engages the stop-arm. Amber and red lights are above the windshield, while cameras are located on the bus driver's side below the front stop sign, pointed towards the back, and on the back towards the top, facing forward, of the bus. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush.

Bus safety in Tama County has become an issue for schools, students, community members, and law enforcement, especially this year.

“Since Jan. 2, our office, as of today [Feb. 13], has issued eight citations for bus violations just for Tama County jurisdiction. That doesn’t include the cities of Tama and Toledo,” said Tama County Deputy Casey Schmidt. “We had three last year.”

Schmidt added that people are sometimes surprised to learn how frequently such things happen locally.

“If people knew this was going on in their communities, their counties, on their school routes to their kids, people would be like ‘WHOA!’ You see it on tv, you see it happens in larger cities, but surely it’s not happening here, but it is. I saw some close calls just last month,” he said.

The increase in violations is due to the recent installation of cameras on school buses. All Iowa school buses are in the process of being equipped with camera equipment to capture drivers violating Kadyn’s Law.

Tama County Sheriff’s Department canine officer Tyson would like to remind drivers to slow down, stop and help protect students while they enter and exit school buses. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush.

Kadyn’s Law, also known as the “Keep Aware Driving – Youth Need School Safety Act,” was passed after 7-year-old Kadyn Halverson of Kensett was killed by a motorist who ignored the bus’ activated flashing lights and blew through her school bus stop-arm.

No students have been harmed by drivers’ neglect of a stopping bus yet in Tama County, but they have come close. That is why the South Tama Community School District and Tama County Sheriff’s Department are pleading for drivers to pay attention.

“It never hit home until we got those cameras installed. Then suddenly, you’re seeing it,” said STC Transportation Director Steve Chyma.

On Feb. 13, Deputy Schmidt met with STC bus drivers.

“You’ve got a lot going on as a bus driver, right? The most important thing for law enforcement is that you guys are doing a great job and making sure the buses are stopped, the kids aren’t getting off, and you’re cautious of the drivers going through the stop sign. I have no complaints,” he said. “You’re always erring on the side of caution, and we can all at least go home at night and sleep well, knowing those kids are safe.”

Drivers approaching a bus will see a stop sign like this, with the red lights engaged above the emergency exit on the back of the bus. Pictured is the recently installed camera below the extended sign. Photo by Vanessa Roudabush.

All bus drivers are trained when engaging in a stop and protect the children by delaying opening the bus doors while vehicles pass by.

“They will watch the surroundings before the kids can get off that bus.” Chyma said. “We’ve had that happen a couple of times on Highway 63 North. They’ve got their [amber] lights going, and they’ll see a car coming down the road. They’re aware of their surroundings. They won’t flip out that stop sign until the vehicle goes by. Then they put out their stop sign and let the students go. The drivers are doing an excellent job keeping the kids safe. Our drivers really care about our students.”

Chymas encouraged drivers to activate their amber lights at 300 feet and give drivers plenty of notice that the bus is preparing to stop.

“Start to slow down so you can stop. They’re coming up, not quite stopped, reds are coming out, letting everyone know. A stop sign is a stop sign you don’t blow through it,” he said.

Student safety should not solely rest on bus drivers and the students but also on drivers, who must engage in responsible driving when approaching stopping buses.

“We all, as a community, have to do what’s safest for the kids,” Schmidt said.

South Tama Schools hold bus safety classes every year. Due to the increase in driver violations and the risk to students, Superintendent John Cain is working with the STC school board, bus drivers, and teachers to create a bus safety curriculum that will be taught to all students soon.

Kadyn’s Law (Iowa Code section 321.372)

Prohibits drivers from passing a stopped school bus when the amber or red lights are flashing and the stop-arms are out.

When a driver meets a bus with flashing amber warning lights, drivers must reduce their speed to no more than 20 mph.

When a driver meets a school bus that is stopped with the stop-arm extended, the driver must bring their vehicle to a complete stop and remain stopped until the stop-arm is retracted and the bus resumes motion, at that time, the driver must proceed with caution.

When a driver is overtaking a school bus, the driver shall not pass a bus when amber or red lights are flashing and must bring their vehicle to a complete stop, no closer than 15 feet from the bus, and remain stopped until the stop-arm is retracted and the bus resumes motion.

Kadyn’s Law is a non-scheduled violation, meaning those drivers who violate this law must attend court. Violators of this law can face criminal penalties. The first offense is a simple misdemeanor with a fine between $250-675 and/or up to 30 days in jail. The second offense is a serious misdemeanor with a fine between $315-1,875, and the court may impose up to one year of jail time.

Convictions qualify as a serious violation pursuant to the Iowa Department of Transportation’s administrative rules. Drivers may have their license suspended for 30 days for the first offense, 90 days for the second, and 180 days for the third.

Once a person is convicted of this offense and receives notice of the suspension, they can appeal the imposed sanction. A serious offense violation like this is not a mandatory suspension but discretionary. The DOT can choose not to suspend the person’s license.

For more information on Iowa School Bus Safety, visit https://iowadot.gov/schoolbus/.