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3:11 AM Sat, Dec. 15th

STOP! Bus drivers, police urge people to slow down around school bus stops

Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier<br>
Bus drivers from Prescott Unified School District participate in the annual bus rodeo at Pioneer Park Monday morning. The drivers will start picking up children around the area as schools start Wednesday.

Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier<br> Bus drivers from Prescott Unified School District participate in the annual bus rodeo at Pioneer Park Monday morning. The drivers will start picking up children around the area as schools start Wednesday.

While bus drivers for Prescott Unified School District waited to compete in a bus rodeo Monday, they spoke about troublesome things they see while taking children to school, and later a Prescott police officer explained school zone traffic laws.

The bus rodeo, where drivers showed off their skills in serpentine, right turn, clearance, and offset alley events, was part of a 6.5 hour in-service and DPS requirement that all bus drivers took part in just two days before school starts, said Jim Cowan, transportation director for the district.

At the event, Mike Shepard voiced his and other bus drivers' main concern. "When we're parked and loading kids, people are passing us and going around us," Shepard said. "It's rampant, and there's a substantial fine for that."

Muriel Williams said it scares her when "drivers whip past us and the kids are getting off the bus."

"When a stop arm is out, they need to stop," Kathy White added.

When a bus comes to a stop with its lights on and the stop arm out, traffic in both directions on the street must stop until the bus turns off its lights, said Sgt. Corey Kasun, traffic section supervisor for the Prescott Police Department.

Failing to do so could lead to a $493 fine.

"The reason behind it is that kids when they get off the bus will cross the street," Kasun said. "They think they're in their safe zone and may not take the time to look both ways. Kids from high school students down to kindergartners have a different level of perception than adults. We have to factor that into account."

Only if the street is divided by physical barriers such as a fence, curbing, or a separation of the pavement, can traffic in the opposite direction continue, according to the Arizona Drivers License Manual.

"The number one thing we deal with in school zones is speed," Kasun said. "The speed limit in school zones is 15 miles per hour. When you start getting over that, and a kid steps off the curb, you don't have enough time and distance to stop safely."

The fine for speeding in a school zone is $653.

The event, where drivers negotiated tight curves driving forward and in reverse, "really teaches you how to use your mirrors when parking and backing up," said Connie Silva, transportation secretary, as she kept track of drivers' scores.

While waiting for her turn, Vaughn Rudolph, a bus driver, said motorists should slow down when they see a bus' yellow lights and be ready to stop. "If it takes an extra 15 seconds to get in to work, it's worth it," Rudolph said.

Kasun said crosswalk violations run a close second to speed violations. At regular crosswalks, drivers can proceed once a person is out of their direction of traffic, but that's not so in school zones.

"Whether it's a child going to school, mothers following them, or teens in the crosswalks near the high school, drivers are required to stop in a school zone until the pedestrian has gone from curb to curb," Kasun said.

Failing to do so could lead to a $493 fine.

Bus driver Barry Greenawalt watched another driver compete in the offset alley event, where drivers go forward, then back up, and move to the side to park in a docking area.

"We run into a lot of people who pull into the bus zone to let out their kids even though it's clearly indicated that it's buses only," Greenawalt said.

As Bob De Armond, lead trainer for transportation, measured how closely the bus' rear tire came to cone while making a right turn, he said drivers keep close to the curb while turning because big vehicles need plenty of space to turn. Also, bicyclists, motorcyclists, and even cars often try to squeeze past the bus.

Kenneth Wright, a bus driver for the past 27 years, encouraged people to increase the amount of space between their vehicles and a bus, because a bus often has to brake quickly.

"With school starting on Wednesday, we'll be increasing our enforcement and showing our presence in school zones," Kasun said.

Kasun also reminded drivers that there is zero tolerance for traffic violations in school zones.