The new school year has brought with it an increased rate of school bus safety violations by motorists in the North Sanpete School District (NSSD), creating safety concerns for district officials.
As of Monday, Sept. 19, the district had recorded 29 stop arm violations (where a motorist illegally drives past a loading or unloading school bus) in the 22 days since school began.
Last school year, the district saw about four violations per month, for a full-year total of approximately 35.
“It just blows my mind,” said Dallon Sagers, transportation supervisor for the district. “We’re almost to our total for all of last year, in just [four] weeks of school. That’s the shocking thing.”
A stop arm violation, no matter what direction the vehicle is traveling when it passes the bus, is punishable by a minimum fine of $250 and is a Class C Misdemeanor. Repeated offenses can lead to a fine of more than $1,000 per violation. Each violation can also carry between 10-40 hours of community service.
Over the past year, Sagers has overseen the installation of cameras on all North Sanpete school buses. Legalized in 2017 by the Utah Legislature, these cameras record video of the surroundings of each bus at all times. When a bus driver reports a violation, the district Transportation Department can obtain colored photos of the offending vehicle, often with license plate numbers visible.
“We’ve been handing them over to the law enforcement,” Sagers said. “I’ve followed up with the Highway Patrol—they’ve been knocking on the doors of the vehicle owners.”
Passing a stopped school bus that has red lights flashing is breaking the law, and it is against the law for a reason.
“We’re all nervous, because we just want to get the students to and from school safely,” said Trevor Powell, assistant superintendent in the South Sanpete School District, who is also in charge of transportation. “That’s our number one job… If a car is traveling at even a slow rate of speed, if they hit a younger student, it could be a possible fatal situation, a fatal mistake.”
School buses are designed to be the safest possible vehicle for young students. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, students are most vulnerable when in the “danger zone” outside of the bus while loading or unloading.
All 50 states have laws against the passing of a stopped school bus.
“It’s a panic feeling, it really is,” said bus driver Lisa Sagers. “You get so mad inside because your kids are in danger. I can’t even explain how it makes you feel.”
Lisa witnessed one of the closest calls this year. After stopping east of Moroni on S.R. 132 to pick up a student, a motorist ignored stop signs and flashing red lights and passed the bus on its right side (the side with the door), driving through the ditch on the side of the road to do so. This occurred on Aug. 25,
“I was watching [the student],” Lisa said. “Then I saw her eyes get really big, and this car came flying up in the pit… me and [the driver] had eye contact, but he wouldn’t look at me, because he knew he was in trouble.”
The NSSD bus system transports over 1,000 students every morning and every afternoon, on a fleet of 28 buses. If the current rate of stop arm violations continues, the district will see over 200 violations before the end of the year.
After a 2022 survey on stop arm violations, conducted in 34 states, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil
Transportation Services concluded that “illegal passings of stopped school buses are at an epidemic level.”
All the NSSD can do is respond to violations, which means it is up to motorists to help make the roads safer for students before a tragedy strikes.
“Think about it,” Dallon Sagers said. “This is somebody’s child, somebody’s grandchild, somebody’s niece or nephew. It’s somebody’s child that’s on that bus, so slow down and pay attention. It may not be your child, but it’s somebody’s child.”
“It doesn’t matter if you have kids or not, because they are our kids,” Powell said. “They’re Sanpete County kids, and you don’t want to lose any kid to an accident like that.
Dallon Sagers suggested leaving home a few minutes earlier in the morning in order to miss a bothersome bus stop entirely.
Bus driver Cece Shepherd stressed that “patience is key.” “It’s their lives,” Lisa Sagers said. “Just please stop.”