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New School Bus Legislation and Its Effects on Motorists

I wanted to bring to your attention new state legislation that was designed to increase the safety of school bus riders. While well intertioned, the new law also has the potential to make our roadways more dangerous for motorists and students alike.
Effective January 1, 1998, the Thomas Edward Lanni School Bus Safety Act of 1997 will require school bus drivers to flash their red lights every time they stop to unload or pick up children, regaurdless if whether the students will cross the street. The law before required flashing red lights only when children would be crossing the street before loading and after loading. What won't change is the motorist's responsibility. When red lights flash, motorists in both directions - except on a divided road or highway - must come to a complete stop.

Some worry that cars will be forced to stop suddenly on streets and highways with high speed limits or two-lane roads

where traffic can back up quickly, or that some won't stop at all. The law means motorists will be stopping much more frequently. Motorists may get confused and impatient because they have to stop in both directions on some roads but not others, and they may not always see children crossing when the red lights flash.

School Bus Transportation Directors throughtout the state have expressed concern that motorists will likely get the piture that children aren't crossing anymore. It is feared that motorists will think that there is no reason to stop. That impatience could put the children in danger if motorists decide to go ahead and pass the bus right into the path of a child and/or bus driver who are crossing the street.

The new law was in response to the 1994 death of a 7-year old Tommy Lanni Jr. in Southern California. The little boy was struck and killed by a pickup truck as he crossed the street after getting off a school bus. The bus driver didn't know that Tommy would try to cross the street and didn't activate the bus' red flashing lights.

Assemblyman Bill Morrow, R-Oceanside, authored the bill and said he wanted to prevent that kind of accident from occuring again. "When I've been out driving I've come to a school bus stopped without lights flashing, I remember experiencing uncertainty. Am I suppose to go? Am I suppose to stop?" he said. "We need to get the uncertainty out of the law in every instance." It is noteworthy that Assembly Bill 1297 unanimously passed both the State Assembly and State Senate.

During the month of December, 1997, the California Highway Patrol intitiated a public information campaign to educate motorists about the new law. There will certainly be much more discussion about Assembly Bill 1297 and its effect on motorists and highway safety.

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