Several local school bus routes will change this fall under a new state law.
The law seeks to prevent children from crossing the roadway on rural highways to get on or off the school bus. Bus drivers are required to pick up or drop off children on the right hand side of the roadway unless there are no other safe alternatives. The law only pertains to children in elementary school.
The rule doesn’t affect routes within the boundaries of cities or towns. Lawmakers proposed the changes after three siblings were struck and killed last October in northern Indiana by a pickup truck while boarding a bus that had stopped and lowered its arm.
“The majority of our routes will be impacted, some more than others, to make it all work,” said Jim McBee, director of business and transportation at North Montgomery School Corp.
McBee said the district hopes the changes will have little impact on ride lengths.
The district is notifying families about the changes. Information about routes will be available on the Powerschool system after Aug. 1. North Montgomery parents can also download an app called Here Comes the Bus to track their child’s bus.
Transportation officials at South Montgomery Community School Corp. surveyed the bus drivers with rural highway routes to determine how many children have to cross the roadway to board. Under the law, school boards must approve routes where such crossings are unavoidable.
“Our intention through and through is just to eliminate that whole possibility,” said Eric Brewer, director of transportation and safety and principal of Walnut Elementary School.
Affected buses would be re-routed or the transportation office would make other arrangements with families.
“We don’t have a lot of those situations because we’ve always been conscious of [avoiding rural highway crossings] in the first place,” Brewer said.
At Crawfordsville Community Schools, the law will have “minimal” impact on routes, assistant superintendent Dr. Rex Ryker told school board trustees last week.
The law also stiffens penalties for illegally passing a school bus, including a 90-day license suspension for the first offense. While thousands of motorists are still disregarding school bus stop arms, fewer violations were reported in the Indiana Department of Transportation’s most recent survey of school bus drivers.
There were 2,530 complaints on a single day in April, the survey found, down from a record 3,077 single-day violations in 2018.
Complaints of illegal passing are rare locally, Montgomery County Sheriff Ryan Needham told the Journal Review earlier this year.
North Montgomery logged zero complaints in this year’s survey and South Montgomery reported two violations. Crawfordsville Community Schools did not participate in the survey this year.
Extended stop arms, which reach into oncoming traffic, are seen as one option for reducing illegal passing. In a recent non-binding opinion, Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill said no federal or state laws prevent their use. But the Indiana Department of Education has recommended schools wait for more guidance from the state’s school bus committee.
The Associated Press contributed to this report