Procedure change for school buses to impact drivers

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A change in operating procedure for school buses means a significant change for all drivers starting on Monday, Nov. 4.

Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District buses will no longer use the red warning lights on Century and University avenues and Allen Boulevard where curbs and sidewalks are present on both sides of the roadway, District Transportation Services Manager Steve Rammer said. In lieu of red warning lights, school buses will activate their yellow four-way hazard flashers and pull curbside to pick up or discharge passengers.

Cars approaching a school bus displaying its yellow four-way hazard flashers are not required to stop, but may proceed with caution around the stopped bus if and when it is safe to do so in the left lane, Rammer said.

Because these are multiple-lane roadways with curb and sidewalk on both sides, bus stops are scheduled such that no student would ever need to cross these roadways and the change should allow for smoother flowing traffic on these roadways.

The change is being made at the request of the police department, Rammer said. The reason for the change is a state statute that prohibits the use of red lights where a sidewalk and curb are laid on both sides of the road, unless required otherwise by municipal ordinance.  A municipality can adopt an ordinance to allow use of red warning lights, but it limits this ability to when such persons must cross the street or highway before being loaded or after being unloaded,  he said.

Rammer explained that if curb and sidewalk are present on both sides and no student crosses the road, it is not an enforceable violation so police don't write a ticket.  The change will bring MCPASD into compliance on roadways where the Distict never schedules students to cross, he said.

Drivers who see the red-warning lights activated and a red sign come out on a school bus are required by state law to stop at least 20 feet from the bus in all directions unless on a highway that is divided. Drivers are not to proceed until the bus resumes moving and has turned off its red warning lights.

A vehicle owner or driver can be cited for failing to stop for a school bus, with a fine of $240 to $326.50 and the loss of four points. An officer doesn't need to witness the violation if the school bus driver reports it to law enforcement within 24 hours.

The District has put together a 48-second public service announcement on its YouTube channel.

A communication was also sent to all parents with children in District schools on Oct. 31, Community Relations Specialist Perry Hibner said. The Middleton Police Department also planned to contact other area law enforcement officials to see if their communities would run something on the change, he said.

“We realize a number of commuters use those streets when our buses are on them,’’ Hibner said.  “We don’t want there to be any confusion the first time a bus uses its yellow lights. We believe reaching out to as many people as possible will help limit problems.’’