District working on new policy for how buses stop along Highway 95

Joel Stottrup / Union-Eagle A Princeton school bus driver has this bus stopped on an eastbound lane of Highway 95 about seven miles east of Princeton the afternoon of April 3 while taking students home after school. In this case the driver has activated the bus’s eight-light system with extended stop arm on left side. Four amber lights oscillate to flash while preparing to stop, and then the lighting switches to four oscillating red flashing lights.

Joel Stottrup / Union-Eagle
A Princeton school bus driver has this bus stopped on an eastbound lane of Highway 95 about seven miles east of Princeton the afternoon of April 3 while taking students home after school. In this case the driver has activated the bus’s eight-light system with extended stop arm on left side. Four amber lights oscillate to flash while preparing to stop, and then the lighting switches to four oscillating red flashing lights.

The way Princeton school bus drivers make their 13 stops along Highway 95 could change in the weeks ahead as the school district continues working with the State Patrol to set a new policy for bus stops on this busy, two-lane highway.
The subject of forming a new policy came up at the April 1 Princeton School Board meeting.
But according to Tim Wilhelm, manager of the Palmer Bus Co., the school district’s transportation provider, this move to revise the district’s transportation policy this way started 18 months ago. The goal, according to Wilhelm, is to set a “consistent policy” for how buses stop along Highway 95 to pick up or drop off students. The desired changes include having only right-side stops and pulling onto the shoulder of the highway and activating a four-light system.
The proposed policy change also includes pulling onto the shoulder and activating the four lights during certain stops within city limits. Wilhelm talked about the subject on April 4, during which he explained that the in-city stops have to do with picking up and dropping off some special needs students.
If the student requires a wheelchair, that can take much longer at the bus stop and if the bus is parked on the driving lane during that time with the stop arm extended and red lights flashing, motorists can get frustrated and impatient waiting, Wilhelm said.
It’s that impatience that may have encourage some drivers to drive against the extended bus stop arm at times, Wilhelm said.
During the April 1 School Board meeting, Superintendent Julia Espe and Director of Business Services Michelle Czech mentioned eight-light and four-light activations. Espe explained that the current procedure for busing Princeton students along Highway 95 is to use the eight-light activation, and Czech said the desire is to go with four-light stops on the shoulder of Highway 95 “in certain situations.”
Wilhelm explained that the eight-light system begins with two amber lights on each of the back and front ends of the bus on top oscillating back and forth 300 feet before the bus is to stop, for a total of four lights activated. Then when the bus comes to a stop, the driver activates the red flashing lights on the front and back on top. Those four lights added to the four previous flashing amber lights equal the eight lights activated to make the stop. When the red flashers go on, a red stop sign is also extended from the left front side of the bus. During all of this time, the bus is stopped in a traffic lane and drivers coming from either direction are prohibited by law from driving past the stopped bus.
Bus drivers are trained to look for license plate numbers of violators and turn in the information for law enforcement notification.
Wilhelm explained that the four-light stop means the lower flashing lights, two on the back and two on the front, are activated when the bus is pulled off the road and stopped.
Wilhelm also explained that right side stops means a bus stops on the same side as the student’s residence so the student stays on the right side of the bus and doesn’t cross over the highway to the left.
Goals for the highway
Wilhelm noted it is already law that school buses are to pull off the road when stopping on a four-lane road. The goal of the Minnesota Highway Patrol and school districts with bus stops along Highway 95 is to have a consistent policy on these bus stops, Wilhelm said.
The push for changes is hastened by the many incidents over the years of motorists driving against the extended stop arm and flashing red lights, and one such situation occurred on a Princeton route the afternoon of April 3, according to Wilhelm. He said it was on a Sherburne County road in Baldwin Township and a driver shot by the bus from the opposite direction.
Espe told the School Board that Princeton is collaborating with Cambridge to set a new policy that will designate how each stop is to be done along Highway 95. Wilhelm added that it will ultimately involve all the school districts along Highway 95 from St. Cloud on east to as far as Stillwater.

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