New law increases penalties for bus violations
Fairfield residents may not be aware of Iowa’s new school bus law or its tougher sanctions, said Fred McElwee, director of auxiliary services for the Fairfield Community School District.
“It is much more strict now, and the public is not aware of it,” said McElwee. “It’s important to let our community know.”
Gov. Terry Branstad signed into law the “Keep Aware Driving — Youth Need School Safety Act,” in March, commonly known as Kadyn’s Law. In northern Iowa last year, Kadyn Halverson, a 7-year-old girl from Northwood, was hit by a pickup and killed while trying to cross the street to board her bus to school. The driver of the truck, Aaron Gunderson, of Northwood, was sentenced in January to 15 years in prison.
The act increased criminal penalties for passing a stopped school bus and called upon the Iowa Department of Transportation to increase driving privilege sanctions for illegally passing a stopped school bus. The department adopted an emergency administrative rule in August.
Under current Iowa law, a first time offender is cited for a simple misdemeanor, carrying a fine of $250 to $675 and a 30-day suspension of driving privileges. Subsequent offenses are considered a serious misdemeanor, carrying a fine of $315 to $1,875. Driving privilege sanctions escalate to 90 days for a second violation, and 180 for a third offense.
In Fairfield, Police Chief Julie Harvey said residents primarily violate the law on the main thoroughfare of Burlington Avenue, where she suspects the addition of a turning lane has confused drivers.
“They assume because of the three lanes of traffic, they don’t need to stop,” she said.
Harvey said the same rules apply, despite the extra lane.
“If a bus is stopped, the opposite lane of traffic needs to stop,” she said.
McElwee said drivers pass stopped buses throughout town, but agreed Burlington Avenue sees “the most consistent violation of the stop arm.”
When meeting a bus from the front, residents are required to slow to less than 20 mph when they see amber warning lights flashing. When the school bus stops and extends its stop arm, residents are required to stop until the arm is retracted.
When driving behind a school bus, the same rules apply, and residents must stop no closer than 15 feet from the rear of the bus.
The only scenario where a car is not required to stop is when it is bound in the opposite direction of the bus on a roadway with two or more lanes in either direction. In such cases, bus drivers are not allowed to load or unload children who must cross unless there are official traffic control devices implemented. Vehicles bound in the same direction as the bus must still stop.
Harvey said she notices a significantly higher number of violations in September when school has just gone into session, and drivers aren’t used to navigating around buses.
“At the beginning of school year, we have one or two violations a month,” said Harvey.
She said violations rarely take place by schools, where drivers know officers are patrolling.
“The violations take place 30 or 40 minutes later, when kids are dropped off at home,” she said.
At present, McElwee is happy to report no violations have led to injury. “Fortunately, at present, there have been no close calls,” he said.
For the safety of students and to avoid harsh sanctions, he said he hopes residents abide by Kadyn’s Law.
Click below to see a diagram and instructions on how to stop for school buses on a three-lane street, like Burlington Avenue, which runs through Fairfield.