Give school buses a brake

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010
— From the bus stop at the edge of her tree-lined driveway on County Y, rural Milton resident Kristen Peterson has seen enough.

The cars come from the north and the south. Some slow to a crawl, almost a stop, and then keep going. Others blow on past without so much as tapping their brakes.

Either way, they don't stop—even though a school bus is loading or unloading children.

"The worst are the ones that just go flying by at 55 or 60 miles an hour," Peterson said. "It's like they don't even see a bus. How do you not see a big, yellow school bus with a flashing red light and a stop sign?"

Every day, Peterson wonders if a motorist is going to hit her daughter Morgan or her nephew Logan as they're getting on or off the school bus.

Only a month into the school year, Peterson said she's already seen cars on her road pass a stopped school bus five different times. Most are going too fast for her to even make out their license plate.

Peterson painted a safety line in her driveway to keep the children, both first graders in the Milton school district, back from the road. She waits at the bus stop in the morning and the afternoon.

Peterson has told police, the school bus company and school officials about the problem. She even carries a camera, hoping she'll capture the license plate numbers of people who keep passing the bus while it's stopped on the road at her house at 5539 N. County Y.

She knows none of those measures can stop motorists who fail to observe common sense or state law.

"I don't know if people think they're entitled to fly on past or if they just don't know the laws," Peterson said.

The law is clear, says Sgt. Kerry Schlittler of the Rock County Sheriff's Office:

-- If you're approaching or following a stopped school bus on a one- or two-way road, you must stop. It's not optional. You cannot pass a stopped school bus.

-- If you do pass a stopped school bus and either the bus driver or a police officer can prove it, you or the owner of your vehicle could be ticketed for failure to stop for a school bus. The violation carries 4 points and a $326.50 fine.

Schlittler said most failure to stop for school bus complaints come at the beginning of the school year on busy state highways or county thoroughfares such as County Y.

"We've gone three months without (school buses). It could be that folks just have to get used to them being out here again," he said.

Records suggest that's true.

During the 2010-11 school year, the Rock County Sheriff's Office responded to 52 verified complaints countywide of people passing stopped school buses.

Nearly half of those complaints, 23 of them, came during the first three months of the school year.

Already this school year, the sheriff's office has investigated four failure to stop for school bus complaints, records indicate.

Riteway Bus Service, the company that transports Peterson's children to school, covers about 100 square miles of bus routes serving Milton schools.

On its Milton routes, the company has reported to police 12 verified failure to stop for school bus complaints this school year, said Diane Morea, manager of Riteway's Milton terminal.

"That's a lot," Morea said.

On average, the company deals with the issue every two or three days.

Peterson said she's stumped as to whether it's an increase in traffic or just a decrease in driver courtesy. But she's lived along County Y her whole life, and she can't ever remember seeing so many people passing stopped school buses.

"Whatever it its, it's a scary thought to have to pray that your kids can get across the road," she said.

John Schoville, Riteway's safety manager for southern Wisconsin, offered this simple advice to drivers:

"When you see that big yellow bus, slow down and watch what they're doing with their lights. Always, always be looking for them to stop."

Last updated: 3:19 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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