There are approximately 500,000 school buses on the road across the United States, making the school-bus system America’s biggest public transportation network. In Minnesota, as in many other states, there are traffic laws that relate specifically to school buses, such as the regulations around the vehicles’ stop arms.
So, what exactly is a Minnesota school bus stop arm violation, and how should you respond if you’re charged with an offense of this nature?
What Is a Minnesota School Bus Stop Arm Violation?
Minnesota law requires all road users to stop more than 20 feet from school buses when they display their stop signals and flashing red lights. You should not let your vehicle move again until the stop arm is retracted and the red lights have ceased flashing. Additionally, you should not try to drive past a school bus on its right-hand side (the side on which passengers enter and exit) when it’s flashing its amber signals, as these indicate the bus is preparing to pull in and stop.
A basic infringement of any of these rules is a misdemeanor offense, punishable by a fine of $1000. Additionally, you may be guilty of a gross misdemeanor if you fail to stop as required when you see the stop arm and attempt to pass the school bus on the right-hand side, or if you attempt to drive past the bus when a child is outside it, either on the road or an adjacent sidewalk.
Gross misdemeanors carry maximum penalties of one year in jail and a fine of as much as $3,000. Additionally, if you have previous driving offenses on your record, you may end up with a suspension or revocation of your license. For each repeat traffic conviction, the length of your license suspension will usually increase.
How Do School Bus Stop Arms Work?
School bus stop arms are designed to keep children safe as they get on and off buses. In more recent years, these systems have been equipped with cameras to allow for automatic operation and detection of road users who break the rules.
Once a school bus has its stop arm extended, high-resolution cameras detect any movement by vehicles in the enforced zone. Should a vehicle continue moving in this zone in spite of the rules, the camera will record video and images of it, including its license plate. The footage can then go to the police for review, and officers can make a final decision about whether to send the driver a citation.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Office of Communications (OOC) recently announced a $3.7 million investment in cameras to accompany stop arm systems, following a similar grant in February 2022. These recording devices will be used by 32 transport companies and schools across Minnesota.
This move came in response to concerns from school bus drivers, law enforcement, and the general public about the frequency of school bus stop arm violations. Now, police will be able to use this camera footage to apprehend those who break the rules in this area, rather than relying solely on in-person stops. This could lead to an increased number of citations related to offenses of this kind.
According to the OOC news release referenced above, there were over 1,000 school bus stop arm citations in Minnesota in 2017, 2018, and 2019. This number dropped significantly in 2020 and 2021, likely because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, an annual one-day survey reveals that school bus drivers see a huge number of these offenses go unpunished; each year, drivers collectively witness hundreds of violations over the course of a single day.
When to Call an Attorney
If you’ve had a brush with law enforcement over a Minnesota school bus stop arm violation, or another type of offense, we can help. Contact us today to schedule a free initial case consultation.