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Drivers illegally passing school buses causes concern for student safety Submitted: 11/20/2018

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MINOCQUA -
Schools across the Northwoods and the state received millions of dollars in grant money to make their buildings safer this year. But a huge safety risk happens before your children even get to their schools.

Children have been hurt and killed in crashes at bus stops across the country, and drivers in the area say it's a problem here, too.

During one Lakeland Area bus's last stops of the day, a car zoomed by on Highway 47, completely disregarding the bus's stop sign. Apparently that violation isn't uncommon. 

"As bus drivers in the United States, children are at danger every day," said Lakeland Area Bus Terminal Manager Kim Hazelett.

Hazelett was horrified when she heard three children in Indiana were killed after being hit by a car at their bus stop.

"It kind of hit a sore sport with me," said Hazelett.


So far this school year, Hazelett says they've been able to report 12 drivers for illegally passing their buses. 

"Eight of those instances were following the week of the Indiana incident," said Hazelett. "So eight in one week." 

Hazelett believes part of the problem is a lack of knowledge.

"I just feel we need to make it more know to the public what laws are," said Hazelett. 

Road rules with buses are fairly simple. Most people know on a two-land road that cars going in both directions need to stop when a bus stops and has its stop sign out. The real issue comes with four lane highways like Highway 51 in Minocqua, where many people don't know all lanes are supposed to stop when the bus is stopped. The only time cars going in the opposite direction of the bus don't have to stop is when there's a median or barrier in the way.

When a driver does violate the law, bus drivers like Jim Smith try to get the license plate number.

"But you're also watching in your mirrors for other cars that are coming, and you're watching these children come up and get on the bus," said Smith. "So you've got a lot to look at in a short period of time." 

Bus drivers also have dash cameras, which can sometimes help identify who is violating the law. They'll also use their radio system to warn other buses to watch out for a particular driver as well.

"We're trying to do everything we can to catch that person," said Smith. 

Drivers who are caught will pay a $326.50 fine and get four points on their license. Owners are also liable for cars that illegally pass a bus and face the same fine. 

"It's a dangerous violation, you put a lot of people's lives at risk," said Minocqua Police Lt. Jason Benbenek. 

It's a risk that Hazelett says is never worth taking.

"Everything else can wait," said Hazelett. "Nothing is more important than the life of a child."

The other major issue bus drivers are having is people speeding up to pass a bus when they're putting their yellow warning lights on, rather than slowing down. Hazelett says those yellow lights should be treated just like a traffic light, as a signal to slow down and stop. 

Minocqua Police have been working closely with the Lakeland Area Bus Service to try to catch more drivers in violation. Lt. Benbenek has written up at least one citation himself.

"We like to get our officers out there," said Lt. Benbenek. "I followed the buses through down 51 after school, just kind of at a distance, kind of watching. We have other officers that have gotten a schedule to kind of see areas that we've heard of that are problem areas and kind of watch those areas."

To help educate more people on the laws, the Lakeland Bus Service is also teaming up with Law Dogs Driver Education. Starting in December bus drivers will participate in training young drivers to make sure they know all the rules to passing school buses. 

For more information on the laws, people can visit the Lakeland Area Bus Service Facebook page.


Story By: Dakota Sherek

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