New school bus law will affect drivers |

New school bus law will affect drivers

Cory Fisher

California motorists now need to be especially alert – with the new year came a new law that will affect all drivers throughout the state.

Traffic – in both directions – is now required to come to a full stop whenever a school bus is in the process of loading or unloading students.

Introduced by Assemblymember Bill Morrow, R-Oceanside, and signed into law by the governor, it requires all motorists to halt until a school bus’s red warning lights have been turned off, even if it appears that students do not need to cross the street. In the past, red lights only flashed at stops where children were known to cross, escorted by a driver.

“Basically, anytime you see a stopped school bus, stop,” said Gloria Helms, transportation supervisor for the Lake Tahoe Unified School District. “It doesn’t matter if you see the driver or not. Also, in the past, we’ve never used the red lights in the morning – this is something new that drivers are going to have to look out for.”

Although the new law applies only to prekindergarten though grade 8, Helms said the school district will enforce the rule through grade 12.

California is one of the last states to implement such a law, as motorists in 49 other states – including Nevada – are already familiar with the procedure.

In hopes of minimizing the impact on South Lake Tahoe’s traffic flow, wherever possible, school bus stops have been relocated from main roadways to nearby parallel or cross streets, Helms said.

For example, stops on lower Ski Run Boulevard and Sierra Boulevard have been moved, yet stops will remain on Pioneer Trail, Tahoe Keys Boulevard, Upper Truckee north and south, State Route 89 and U.S. Highway 50. Most stops will move no more than one block.

“We’ve worked hard not to make this a community problem,” said Helms. “Very few streets will be impacted as a result of the new routes. But this will definitely make it safer for motorists and kids.”

Nevada residents are used to the routine, said Dan O’Rork, lake transportation coordinator for the Douglas County School District, as the law has been in effect there for more than 10 years.

“But we’ve found that in some cases, it can cause more of a hazard – we’ve seen rear-enders because some obey the law and others don’t, especially when it’s icy,” O’Rork said. “Education about this law is preventive maintenance – we could save a lot of lives if we educate people.”

Enforcement could take awhile, said California Highway Patrol Officer Pat Lord, as people resist change. “We will be working with the school district on this,” he said. “We’ll assign officers to areas that have been identified as a problem. Hopefully this will be a reasonable transition – it’s the larger metropolitan areas that will have more difficulty.”

Because buses will wait for traffic to clear prior to activating their flashing red lights, it is anticipated the buses will be operating behind current schedules until the public becomes familiar with the new procedures, Helms said.

To avoid mishaps, bus drivers advise parents to drop their children off on the same side of the street as the bus stop. Students are known to dart across the street at the sight of someone they know.

“Basically, be cautious anytime you see kids at a bus stop,” Helms said. “We’re not hauling cargo – we’re hauling kids – they’re precious.”

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