Back to school in Arkansas means that more than 6,000 buses will transport 350,000 students to and from school.
It also means that motorists need to remember that it is against the law to pass a stopped school bus that has its red lights flashing. That’s when children are getting on or off the bus.
Earlier this year, the legislature increased the potential penalties for illegally passing a stopped school bus. Act 166 of 2019 raises the minimum amount of the penalty from $250 to $500, and the potential maximum penalty from $1,000 to $2,500.
August begins the annual awareness campaign in Arkansas promoted by legislators, the state Education Department, the governor, school administrators, bus drivers, and mechanics and parents. It’s called “Flashing Red. Kids Ahead.”
The need for heightened awareness is driven home by the alarming results of annual surveys done by bus drivers. Those results show that way too many motorists drive by stopped school buses, and the trend is getting worse.
In April, 3,896 school bus drivers participated in a one-day survey. They represent 227 Arkansas school districts. They reported that on a single day, 884 motor vehicles illegally passed stopped school buses that had red lights flashing.
That was an increase over the previous year. Most of the violations, 711, happened when motorists passed the bus while driving in the opposite direction. Whether going in the same or in the opposite direction, the overwhelming majority of motorists passed the bus on its left side.
However, 12 motorists passed the bus on the right side, which is cause for even greater alarm because the bus doors are on the right side, and it’s the side on which children get off and on the bus.
Nationally, the statistics are just as alarming. A one-day survey of 100,000 bus drivers indicated that more than 88,000 motorists passed a stopped school bus.
Keep in mind school buses lower the overall volume of traffic because parents and guardians don’t have to drive the students to school. That keeps the family car off the road.
If you pick up your children from a school bus stop, always wait on the side where they will be dropped off, so they are not tempted to run across the street to greet you.
In 2004, an elementary school student in Bryant was killed when a motorist illegally passed his stopped school bus as students were getting off the bus.
In 2005, the legislature increased the penalties for anyone found guilty of illegally passing a stopped school bus. The stricter penalties were in legislation known as Isaac’s Law, named after the boy who was killed in Bryant. It was Isaac’s Law that was strengthened during the 2019 legislative session.
Broadband Access in Rural Areas
The governor announced a plan to fund his initiative to bring high-speed Internet to all communities, called “Arkansas Rural Connect,” with $25 million.
It calls for action this year by the Legislative Council to provide $5.7 million for grants for small communities that lack Internet service. In next year’s fiscal session the legislature will consider an appropriation for the remainder of the $25 million.
The program builds on work done earlier this year by the legislature when it approved Act 198 of 2019. The measure allows local government entities to begin their own broadband services.
James Sturch, a lifelong resident of Independence County, is currently serving as the State Senator for District 19 in the Arkansas State Senate.