All District 196 school buses will be equipped with stop-arm cameras thanks in part to a $290,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety (DPS-OTS) announced Sept. 26.
District 196 was one of 21 school districts and transportation companies that received a combined $2.9 million in grants in this third phase of funding for school bus stop-arm camera systems. The Minnesota Legislature approved $14.7 million in funding to be spent on the Stop-Arm Camera Grant Project in 2022 and 2023. Through Phase 3, just over $10 million in grants have been awarded.
District 196 operates the largest school district-owned bus fleet in the state, with more than 225 vehicles total. Transportation Coordinator Karen Dayon said her department has been adding stop-arm cameras to buses for several years and this grant will allow them to complete the rest of the fleet. The camera is mounted on the side of the bus, directly beneath the side mirrors, in front of the stop arm. Dayon said this placement of the camera confirms the stop arm was deployed and captures the license plate number of the violator, which the bus driver can share with local police.
The goal of the project is to reduce the number of school bus stop- arm violations through education and enforcement.
“As a driver, impatience or distraction behind the wheel is a potential killer around a school bus,” DPS-OTS Director Mike Hanson said in a news release. “The violations and near misses when a driver nearly takes the life of a child are so frightening and disturbing. … The stop-arm camera project will help educate drivers on the importance of school bus safety and hold them accountable if they choose to endanger young lives.”
In the past five years, law enforcement agencies in Minnesota have cited 4,652 drivers for failing to stop for school buses with flashing lights and stop arms extended. The number of citations went down from 1,120 in 2017 to 769 in 2021, but the frequency of stop-arm violations remains high. An annual survey by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services resulted in more than 1,000 stop-arm violations reported in Minnesota on a single day in 2022.
Follow the Law to Keep Children Safe
State law requires all vehicles to stop for school buses when the bus driver activates the flashing lights and has the stop arm fully extended. Drivers who violate the law face a $500 penalty and possible criminal charges for passing a school bus on the right, passing when a child is outside the bus, or injuring or killing a child.
Motorists must stop at least 20 feet from a school bus that is displaying red flashing lights or a stop arm when approaching from the rear and from the opposite direction on undivided roads. In District 196, this includes all four-lane undivided county roads, where vehicles from both directions should stop for a school bus with flashing lights or stop arm activated.
For more information and a video about school bus stop arm law, visit the Minnesota Department of Public Safety website at dps.mn.gov/.