A driver passes a school bus with flashing lights in Santa Ana. One member… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)
Washington — The death of a 7-year-old Iowa girl, hit by a driver whizzing past a stopped school bus, has triggered an effort in Congress to strengthen the penalties for ignoring the flashing red lights.
Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) has introduced Kadyn’s Act, named after Kadyn Halverson, who was struck and killed by a pickup truck last year while crossing a street to board her stopped school bus. Court records say that the driver was traveling 61 miles per hour.
The measure seeks to press states into enacting a fine of least $250 -- with the possibility of up to 30 days in jail and driver's license suspension -- for a driver who fails to brake for a stopped school bus. That would be for a first offense. The penalties would rise to at least $315 and up to a year in jail and license suspension for a second offense within five years.
States that fail to enact the tougher penalties would lose 10% of their federal highway funds each year.
Although no national statistics are available on the number of children injured by drivers passing stopped school buses, about 112,000 school bus drivers in 28 states reported 37,756 instances of vehicles passing their stopped buses during a single day, according to a survey last year by the National Assn. of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services. The association asked its drivers to count incidents during any one day of a two-month period.
In 2010, the California Highway Patrol issued 928 tickets to drivers who passed stopped school buses; that number doesn't include tickets issued by local police and sheriff's departments. In California, passing a stopped school bus is punishable by a fine of $150 to $250 for a first offense, $500 to $1,000 for a second offense, and one year's loss of driving privileges for a third offense that occurs within three years of two or more violations .
Although an Iowa measure increasing penalties won unanimous support in that state's Legislature, Braley’s stick approach could run into resistance in Congress. In recent years, members have preferred using carrots to encourage state actions.
A transportation bill that recently passed the Senate would give states additional money – rather than threaten to withhold funds -- if they cracked down on distracted driving, required ignition interlock devices for DUI offenders and established graduated-licensing programs that restrict teenagers' driving privileges.
The Iowa state legislation also requires a study on mounting cameras on buses.
The 32-year-old driver who hit Kadyn pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide by reckless driving and leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Kadyn’s mom, Kari Halverson, who helped push for passage of the tougher Iowa penalties, said that she wants to get the word out about the danger posed by drivers who don’t stop for school buses.
"I just wanted parents to know this happens and take precautions ahead of time.’’
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