In the 2018-19 school year, 102 drivers in Newton illegally passed stopped school buses, according to USD 373’s transportation department.

District director of transportation Sheila Zwahlen estimates that total is down by 73 from the previous year.

“Our students’ safety is our department’s number one priority. We want to keep them safe and we can’t do that alone. We need the community’s help,” Zwahalen said.

Kansas law requires all motorists to stop when approaching a stopped school bus from either direction when it’s displaying its flashing red lights and stop arm. Motorists have to remain stopped until the bus is no longer displaying its lights and stop arm. Violation of the law endangers children and is punishable by a fine and court costs in excess of $420.

In April, Kansas bus drivers reported 1,040 stop arm violations. The data was collected during the Kansas One-Day Stop Arm Violation Count. There were 220 districts and 3,300 buses that participated in this year’s Kansas survey. In April 2018, 214 districts and 3,347 buses participated and reported 1,030 violations. There were 691 violations reported by 188 districts (2,527 buses) in April 2017.

The surveys are conducted every year at the request of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, said Keith Dreiling, director of the Kansas State Department of Education’s School Bus Safety Unit.

“School bus safety should be a top priority year-round,” Dreiling said. “It is the responsibility of everyone to make sure Kansas students remain safe. School buses remain very safe, but we know that student passengers are most vulnerable when they are outside the bus, so please obey the stop arm law.”

USD 373 operates 18 buses each day to get students to and from school.

“Several hours of work go into planning routes so they can be as safe as possible,” Zwahlen said.

When a school bus stops and activates its stop arm and flashing red lights, all traffic must stop from both directions — regardless of if it is a two- or four-lane roadway. When a school bus stops and activates its stop arm and flashing red lights on a divided highway with a median separation, traffic approaching the bus from behind must stop.

And the safety measures do not end with the school bus stop signs — streets near school buildings have speed zones to observe.

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling 25 miles per hour is nearly two-thirds less likely to be killed as compared to a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling just 10 mph faster.

“It’s that time when motorists need to avoid distractions, and be much more aware and careful, as students head back to schools,” said Shawn Steward, AAA Kansas spokesman. “Kids will be walking and biking to school, getting on and off school buses and in and out of cars in carpool lines. All of these situations create extra hazards for drivers, as well as the student pedestrians and bicyclists. In addition, many new, inexperienced teen drivers will be driving to school for the first time, creating additional concerns for traffic safety.”

Nearly one-fifth of traffic fatalities of children below the age of 15 are pedestrians, with more school-age pedestrians killed between the hours of 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. than any other time of day.