North Sanpete cameras detect 29 weapon stop violations in first 22 days of school
The new school year has led to an increase in the rate of school bus safety violations by North Sanpete School District (NSSD) motorists, creating safety concerns for district officials.
As of Monday, Sept. 19, the district had recorded 29 arm stop violations (where a motorist illegally drives past a loading or unloading school bus) in the 22 days since school started.
Last school year, the district recorded about four violations per month, for a total of about 35 for the year.
“It takes my breath away,” said Dallon Sagers, transportation supervisor for the district. “We are almost at our total for the whole of last year, in just [four] school weeks. That’s the shocking thing.
A stop arm violation, regardless of the direction the vehicle is traveling when passing the bus, is punishable by a minimum fine of $250 and is a Class C misdemeanor. Repeat violations may result in a fine of more than $1,000 per violation. Each violation can also result in between 10 and 40 hours of community service.
Over the past year, Sagers has overseen the installation of cameras on all school buses in North Sanpete. Legalized in 2017 by the Utah legislature, these cameras record video of the surroundings of each bus at all times. When a bus driver reports a violation, the district transportation department can obtain color photos of the offending vehicle, often with visible license plate numbers.
“We turned them over to law enforcement,” Sagers said. “I followed up with the Highway Patrol – they knocked on vehicle owners’ doors.”
Passing a stopped school bus with flashing red lights is against the law, and it’s illegal for a reason.
“We’re all nervous because we just want students to get to and from school safely,” said Trevor Powell, assistant superintendent of the South Sanpete School District, who is also in charge of transportation. “It’s our number one job… If a car is going even at a slow speed, if it hits a younger student, it could be a fatal situation, a fatal mistake.”
School buses are designed to be the safest vehicle possible for young students. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, students are most vulnerable when they are in the “danger zone” outside the bus during loading or unloading.
All 50 states have laws against overtaking a stopped school bus.
“It’s a feeling of panic, really,” said bus driver Lisa Sagers. “You get so angry inside because your kids are in danger. I can’t even explain how that makes you feel.
Lisa witnessed one of the closest calls this year. After stopping east of Moroni on SR 132 to pick up a student, a motorist ignored stop signs and flashing red lights and overtook the bus on its right side (the side with the door) , crossing the ditch on the side of the road to do it. This happened on August 25,
“I was looking [the student]”, Lisa said. “Then I saw his eyes get really big, and that car flew into the pit…me and [the driver] had eye contact, but he wasn’t looking at me, because he knew he was in trouble.
The NSSD bus system transports over 1,000 students every morning and afternoon, on a fleet of 28 buses. If the current rate of arresting weapons violations continues, the district will see more than 200 violations before the end of the year.
After a 2022 survey of arresting weapons violations, conducted in 34 states, the National Association of State Student Principals
Transportation Services concluded that “illegal crossings of stopped school buses are at an epidemic level.”
All the NSSD can do is respond to violations, which means it’s up to motorists to help make the roads safer for students before tragedy strikes.
“Think about it,” Dallon Sagers said. “It’s someone’s child, someone’s grandchild, someone’s niece or nephew. It’s someone’s child on that bus, so slow down and be careful. It may not be your child, but it is someone’s child.
“It doesn’t matter if you have kids or not, because they are our kids,” Powell said. “These are kids from Sanpete County, and you don’t want to lose a kid in an accident like that.
Dallon Sagers suggested leaving the house a few minutes earlier in the morning in order to completely miss an inconvenient bus stop.
Bus driver Cece Shepherd stressed that “patience is key”. “It’s their life,” Lisa Sagers said. “Please stop.”