School bus safety: what do those flashing lights and signs mean? - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

School bus safety: what do those flashing lights and signs mean?

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -

A new school year means learning new material.

The new school year also means drivers will have to share the road with school buses. It's no secret distracted driving is a national problem. In fact, 3,500 people died because of distracted drivers in 2015, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 
    
The problem even impacts students getting on and off school buses when some drivers disregard buses with flashing lights.

When you see a yellow school bus, you're probably not thinking 'dream job.' But for John Goetz, that's exactly what it is.

"When you get on the bus, you hear about kids not following the rules, but many of my drivers come to work for that reason: for the kids," said Goetz.

He helps transport up to 13,000 students to and from school everyday in the Rochester area.

"It's nice when you get out there and see what's happening." But there's one thing that really grinds his gears. "It's always a real challenge to get people to stop for the red lights on the school buses." 

"We're constantly working on the issue but it is one that is always present," said Sgt. John Lowrie with the Rochester Police Department.

According to Rochester police, they receive a handful of calls every week about drivers not obeying the law when it comes to school buses. 

A lot of motorists either don't stop for school buses or don't know when to stop.

"Once the red lights go on, you have to stop for a school bus. Stop on red," advised Goetz.

Just like a stoplight, drivers must stop when a bus is flashing red lights or when the stop arm is out. Motorists can't move until the red lights go off and the stop arm is retracted. They must also stay 20 feet away from the bus, whether they're behind the bus, approaching it, or on its side. 

The only exception is if a median or divided highway is present. Drivers on the opposite side of a divided highway do not have to stop, but must still be cautious of children crossing the street.

Meanwhile, yellow flashing lights warn drivers to slow down. Drivers do not have to stop on yellow (unless they're attempting to pass the bus on the right side then they must stop), but should be cautious and watch their speed. 

"A good rule of thumb is whenever a school bus is present, use caution," said Sgt. Lowrie.

Pay attention the next time you see a yellow school bus so that drivers like Goetz can feel a little safer while doing their job.

"I'm notorious for hitting my horn. You turn them in and you'd be surprised. They say, 'I didn't see the school bus.' I mean, how can you not see the school bus?"

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