Apparently many drivers, including many on the Key Peninsula, either don’t know –– or don’t care –– what blinking read lights and the “stop paddle” on a school bus mean.
In a word, it means “Stop.”
But, according to Peninsula School District Transportation Director Annie Bell, stop paddle violations are very common.
If you don’t stop, and the bus driver gets your license plate number, you can be fined more than $300. And, Bell said, the fine cannot be waived, reduced or suspended.
The rules are clear.
“You must stop for the bus when the stop paddle is out and the red lights are flashing when you’re traveling in either direction on a two lane road,” Bell said.
“You’re also required to stop when you’re traveling in the same direction as the bus and you’re on a road with more than two lanes of traffic or when you’re traveling in the same direction as the bus on a road with a two-way turn lane,” she said.
Bus drivers are required to fill out a form and send it to PSD whenever an infraction occurs, she added.
The district works closely with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and the Gig Harbor Police Department to catch offenders.
“Sometimes a police officer rides his motorcycle behind the bus, and if he sees it happening, he goes after them,” Bell said.
The stop paddle law was passed to protect children exiting or boarding the school bus. “All our bus drivers and the kids are trained to double check for any cars coming,” she said.
“But every day there are cars that run the stop paddles.”
Bethel School District in east Pierce County recently did a two-month pilot project using cameras on their stop paddles.
The camera takes a photo of the license plate of any car that fails to stop when the stop paddle is out.
“It’s just like a red traffic light,” said Craig Sherman, PSD transportation coordinator. “If you don’t stop, there’s consequences.”
Bell and Sherman said they would like to have cameras installed on all the buses in the Peninsula School District.
Locally, many students have to walk across the Key Peninsula highway to board or exit the school buses, Bell said. That means there will be stop-and-go traffic all along the highway when the buses are on the road before and after school. But the bus drivers always give a warning when they’re approaching a stop, she said.
“When we’re going to stop, we put on our flashing yellow lights. That means we are going to stop. So when a driver sees those yellow lights flashing, you need to be slowing down and be ready to stop,” Bell said.
This month, bus drivers are reviewing the winter driving rules, practicing chain installation and preparing for ice and snow conditions.
They’re also reminding the kids how to be ready for winter conditions. “We’re teaching them to remember that if it snows, the bus can’t stop on a hill so they might have to go to a flat spot to catch their bus,” Bell said.
To see the rules governing winter driving and stopping for school buses, visit psd401.net and look for “Transportation” under the Central Services menu.