FARGO — Minnesota officials are concerned about the number of drivers violating rules requiring vehicles to stop for school buses with warning lights flashing and stop-arms extended, and a terrifying incident in Wabasha County south of the Twin Cities demonstrates why.
A video of the incident the Minnesota Department of Public Safety posted to Facebook shows a girl crossing a road to get to her school bus who narrowly misses being struck and severely injured by a vehicle that zooms past her without slowing.
The near miss happened in January and involved a Zumbrota-Mazeppa (Minn.) Elementary School fourth grader.
The 20-year-old driver who barely avoided running the girl over was found later that same day and ultimately pleaded guilty in Wabash County District Court to a gross misdemeanor charge.
The video of the incident was the centerpiece of a recent news conference during which state safety officials presented results of a survey of 2,360 Minnesota school bus drivers who kept track of school bus stop-arm violations they witnessed on a single day in April.
According to the Minnesota State Patrol, the survey found that:
- 513 motorists illegally passed a school bus approach while approaching the bus head on.
- 112 motorists passed a school bus illegally approaching from behind the bus.
- The survey tallied 625 total violations.
The State Patrol also released annual statistics for citations written in connection with school bus stop-arm violations, which showed: 1,573 citations in 2014; 1,341 citations in 2015; 1,240 citations in 2016; 1,211 citations in 2017; and 1,164 citations in 2018.
In all, 6,529 citations were written over the past five years.
Minnesota law requires that all vehicles stop for school buses when the bus driver activates the flashing lights and has the crossing arm fully extended.
Drivers who violate the law face a $500 fine.
Drivers can face criminal charges for passing a school bus on the right, passing when a child is outside the bus, or injuring or killing a child.
Sgt. Wade Kadrmas, safety and education officer for the North Dakota Highway Patrol, said school bus stop-arm laws in North Dakota are similar to Minnesota's, and he said vehicles not stopping for school buses with lights flashing and stop-arms extended "is a concern with us as well."
He added, however, that complete numbers were not available for the number of citations written in a given year statewide.
Safety officials urge parents to caution their children about how to approach and leave school buses.
When getting off a bus, students should look to make sure no vehicles are passing on the shoulder, and they should wait for the bus driver to signal that it's safe to cross a street.
In the Wabasha County incident, many of those precautions were taken and it still nearly ended in tragedy, according to the bus driver involved, who spoke at the recent news conference.
Jim Perrotti said he had gestured to the girl that it was safe for her to cross the road only to realize moments later that an approaching car wasn't slowing down.
Perrotti said he honked the bus horn in hopes the girl or the car would stop, but neither did.
"I figured she would be splashed on the windshield. That's how close it was," Perrotti said.