Local officials help draft new bus safety laws; take effect in October.

September 22, 2021

Local officials help draft new bus safety laws; take effect in October.

West Shore School News is a presentation of West Shore Educational Service District in partnership with Oceana County Press.

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

On Oct. 11, 2021, four new school bus safety laws take effect. The four laws were made possible mostly through the efforts of local school and law enforcement officials along with State Rep. Jack O’Malley.

Highlighting the four laws are the ability of law enforcement to use video footage to cite drivers who fail to stop for school buses when those buses have activated their red stop lights and stronger penalties for individuals who enter a school bus without permission of the driver.

Public Acts (PA) 50 and 52 of 2021 add language that allows school buses to be equipped with stop arm camera systems. The video footage of those cameras may be used as evidence.

“Before, a police officer had to witness in person a vehicle failing to stop for a school bus that has activated its stop lights,” said Katrina Morris, director of transportation for the West Shore Educational Service District. “This new state legislation will mean police have another tool to stop those who put our children in danger by failing to yield for the buses.”

Morris, along with Mason County Sheriff Kim Cole and Rep. O’Malley (R-Lake Ann) were instrumental in creating the legislation.

“The cameras have been allowed for quite some time, but there hasn’t been the legislation allowing the camera footage as evidence,” O’Malley, who represents Mason County, said.

“We live in a day and age when people are easily distracted when they are driving,” Sheriff Cole said. “There are all kinds of people who are not paying attention when they are driving. And, there are just a lot of people who are inconsiderate.” While being interviewed, Cole said he had just received stop arm camera footage from a school bus on Hansen Road in Amber Township where a driver ignored the red stop lights.

“Have no doubt, the Mason County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement in this county will ticket you for failing to stop. We will not tolerate anyone needlessly putting our children in danger,” Cole said.

PA 49 of 2021, which was written by O’Malley, allows for a civil infraction to be issued with a fine of up to $500 for individuals who enter a bus without permission of the driver. PA 51 regulates equipment, maintenance, operation, and use of school buses. It adds language that allows for warning signs to be placed on buses that state persons entering the bus must have permission of the driver.

“We have seen this happen here locally from time to time,” Morris said.  “It’s often a case of road rage where the other person was unhappy with the bus driver’s actions. No matter the case, children on the bus do not need to witness such behavior. If you have an issue with a bus driver, please call the transportation department instead of confronting the bus driver in front of the children. This new law allows for greater fines whereas before, the only violation for entering a school bus without permission was trespassing.”

Cole said the issue happens more than someone would expect.

“Even just one instance of someone stepping onboard a school bus with ill intent is unacceptable,” Cole said. “This law increases penalties and sends a message that it just won’t be tolerated.”

Rep. O’Malley echoed the sheriff. “This law fills a gap that has long been in existence,” O’Malley said. “We secure school buildings and people accept that they just can’t walk into a school building anymore without permission, for the sake of safety. Yet, those kids get on the school bus and there is a vulnerability there. We want to protect the children riding those buses and the people who drive those buses. It’s the weakest link in the school safety plan and hopefully this legislation helps discourage anyone who wishes to get on a bus and threaten the driver or the students.”

Morris said she is appreciative of the efforts made by Cole and O’Malley. She and Sheriff Cole testified in front of House of Representatives subcommittees in favor of the legislation.

“This is something we have worked very hard to accomplish,” Morris said. “During the school day, there are over 90 school buses on the roads in Mason, Lake, and Oceana counties. While traveling on the school bus is the safest way for children to travel to and from school, there are still safety concerns. We hope that we have provided law enforcement with some additional tools to help enforce those laws and protect our children and those tasked with transporting those children.”

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