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Fines increase for bus violations

Minnesota drivers who get caught trying to cheat the school bus rules this year will pay a steeper price.

The fine increased from $300 to $500 this month for those violating the state law requiring drivers to stop 20 feet away from a bus when it has its flashing lights activated and stop-arm extended. The law applies to drivers traveling in either direction of an undivided roadway.

Lt. Tiffani Nielson of the Minnesota State Patrol said up to 7,000 tickets are written for the violation each year across the state. She said 3,600 Minnesota bus drivers reported 703 stop-arm violations in a single day in April.

"We want people to pay attention. That was our No. 1 concern with this law change," Nielson said. "We want people to be aware."

East Grand Forks Police Chief Mike Hedlund said he sees some of the violations in his city every year.

"It's not common, but it does happen on a far too frequent basis," Hedlund said. "I think it's mostly people who are just in a hurry and figure there won't be an issue. All it takes is that one kid to step out in front of that bus to cross the street and wham, he never even had a chance to notice they were there."

Hedlund said he just heard a report of a stop-arm violation last week concerning a summer school bus. Regular school sessions will begin after Labor Day in East Grand Forks.

Look, slow down

Hedlund said traffic can be especially dangerous for children trying to cross the intersection of 13th Avenue S.E. and Bygland Road. Both South Point Elementary and Central Middle School are located on the east side of Bygland.

"That's a very busy intersection for traffic as well as for pedestrians and bicyclists," Hedlund said. "We'll have officers down there as often as we can, in the mornings, especially, but we really need folks to slow down in that area and be careful."

He said officers also regularly issue tickets to drivers failing to yield at crosswalks.

"People need to remember crosswalks mean you have to stop if there is a pedestrian or bicyclist at the crosswalk. Drivers are obligated to stop," he said.

Nielson said a good number of the stop-arm violations statewide are due to distracted drivers coming from the opposite direction.

"That's where the drivers really need to pay attention to what's happening around their vehicles, so they can be prepared to come to a safe stop," she said.

Children are not able to accurately gauge the distance of oncoming traffic, she said, so if you see a bus you need to always be aware.

"It is a community effort to keep all the kids safe getting on or off the bus," she said. "We have to be the eyes for the children because the kids cannot make those decisions safely."