MANKATO — Amid an uptick in violations, law enforcement and school district officials called on motorists to heed school bus safety laws Wednesday.
Mankato police have documented 12 school bus safety violations by motorists this school year, compared to 15 violations in all of 2018.
“I talk to our transportation partners all the time and the two biggest things that they see out there are the stop arm violations and people following too closely,” said Thomas Sager, director of business services with Mankato Area Public Schools.
Sager shared the common infractions at a media briefing with law enforcement and bus service representatives Wednesday. Their goal is to raise awareness of the laws, as agencies report more distracted drivers failing to pay attention to student safety.
Cara Yaeger, owner of Yaeger Bus Service, and Palmer Bus Service Manager Shelly Goettl said drivers file reports after they see violations. Cameras in the buses supply video evidence when police investigate the reports.
Goettl, who drove buses for 10 years in the Maple River School District, said one of the worst examples she saw was three drivers in a row drive by a bus with its stop arm down. Another time she was dropping students off at a stop when a parent passed the bus.
“I was so livid I ran into town and I saw the Amboy Police Department and went right to them,” she said.
The area between Mankato and Eagle Lake off of County Road 17 is a particular problem area, said Captain Paul Barta of the Blue Earth County Sheriff’s Office. Witnesses filed complaints at the end of the last school year.
“That area was divided by a turn lane the entire length of it so our feeling was that a lot of those drivers were uncertain about whether they need to stop or not,” Barta said.
Unless there’s a median in between one side of the road and the other, motorists on both sides are required by law to stop.
The law also specifies vehicles should be at least 20 feet behind or in front of a school bus displaying red flashing lights.
Along with the 12 formal violations already this school year in Mankato — four this week — bus drivers across the state informally tallied the number of illegal passes they saw on April 17. The 2,360 drivers reported 625 illegal passes that day alone.
Unintentional or not, Blue Earth County Attorney Pat McDermott said it’s happening too often. He called it another example of distracted driv- ing.
“It’s something that as a whole in society we need to be more educated about,” he said.