Every day, parents and guardians in Arizona entrust the vulnerable members of their families to the drivers, operators and supervisors of school buses.
School bus safety administrators work tirelessly to make sure that the family members entrusted to school bus drivers arrive at their destinations in a safe manner. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, this does not always happen.
On one such occasion, because the law was not clear about when a school bus driver must engage the school bus warning lights and stop sign, a child lost her life. The tragic end to Elizabeth Bates’ life inspired her family to look beyond their fear of the future and see an opportunity to protect other children who ride school busses. HB2170 (Chap. 71, 2013) was borne out of this commitment to make it safer for the loading and unloading of school bus passengers.
The year that this fateful event occurred, Arizona was not alone in having families experience the awful consequence of unsafe situations around a school bus loading or unloading passengers. According to a 2011 study conducted by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (Loading and Unloading for School Bus Drivers), on average, 33 school-age children die in school bus-related crashes each year. Almost two-thirds of those children were killed outside of the bus. Half of all school-age pedestrians killed in school bus-related crashes are 5 to 7 years old.
Logic dictates that if there is a way to prevent future deaths and injuries for school bus passengers, Arizona’s policymakers would need to take the lead.
HB2170 changes ARS § 28-857, which is part of the general traffic laws in Title 28 governing motorists on public roads and highways. It addresses the conduct of motorists approaching a stopped school bus; requires school bus drivers to stop at railroad crossings; describes when a school bus driver uses the warning lights and stop signs on a public roadway; and describes the penalty for motorists who do not stop when approaching a school bus with warning lights and stop signs when on a public roadway.
But, what is not currently in section 28-857 is the clear message that motorists should expect school bus drivers to use warning lights and stop signs whenever loading or unloading passengers, regardless of whether the bus is on a public roadway or a private road or driveway.
HB2170 clarifies ARS § 28-857 for training and operation purposes and states that school bus drivers should engage the warning lights and stop signs whenever loading or unloading students and when transporting passengers to and from home and school. By changing the statutes, this will be a first step for future changes to the regulations and training for school bus drivers, and maybe save a life.
The enactment of HB2170 is the result of the leadership of the chair of the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Karen Fann of Prescott, and two school bus transportation administrators, Antonio Mlynek and Dean Humphrey.
A special thank you goes to Gov. Jan Brewer for her willingness to step up in the name of all children who ride school buses and sign HB2170. And thanks to the chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, Sen. Rich Crandall of Mesa, and the leadership in the House and Senate who supported HB2170.
Finally, special thanks go to a host of stakeholders representing myriad interests in school bus safety. Arizona children are safer because of a family’s vision for Arizona’s future.
— Yvonne Hunter is of-counsel at Fennemore Craig, practicing primarily in the area of government affairs. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org