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08.16.2019

Stop for the Flashing Red Lights

Today, as our children start a new school year, I’d like to focus on the “Flashing Red. Kids Ahead” campaign.

I’ve known that vehicles are supposed to stop for a bus since I was a young student in Gravette. I routinely walked the half mile to catch a bus to school. Our bus driver was protective of his young passengers, and so anytime a car passed when red lights were flashing, if he could read the tag, he would write it down and report the car.

The purpose of the “Flashing Red. Kids Ahead” slogan is to make everyone aware that it is illegal to pass a stopped bus. This is the seventh year the Arkansas Department of Education has focused on the responsibility of drivers to stop every time they encounter a school bus with its stop signs out and red lights flashing.

Even with the ongoing emphasis, some drivers aren’t heeding the message. Each day of the 178-day school year, approximately 6,000 buses transport 350,000 students to and from school. Every year, on one day in April, the department asks bus drivers around the state to record the number of drivers who ignore the flashing lights and pass a stopped school bus.

This year, in the one-day survey, drivers reported 884 motorists illegally passing a bus. That means drivers illegally passed 15 percent of our stopped school buses. Put another way, drivers chose to ignore the flashing red lights and endangered the lives of our students 15 percent of the time.

This is a slight increase over last year. The most frightening statistic is that 12 drivers passed a bus on the right side where the children board.

Police agencies, including the state police, ticket drivers who illegally pass a bus. In 2017, troopers wrote 322 tickets, and last year, they wrote 285. This year, members of the 92nd General Assembly passed and I signed a law that increases the penalty for illegally passing a bus.

No one would intentionally endanger a child, but we can’t be careless around school buses.

This week, Secretary of Education Johnny Key hosted a “Flashing Red. Kids Ahead” assembly in the rotunda of the capitol. One of the speakers was William Brian. He is the father of Isaac Brian, the 9-year-old who was killed in Saline County in 2004 when a woman failed to stop for his school bus as he dashed for home after a day at school.

In his brief remarks, Isaac’s father appealed to all of us who drive to always stop when you see a school bus stopped, so that no other family suffers the tragedy his family endured.

In 2004, city leaders, legislators, and educators mobilized as soon as they heard about the death. During the 2005 General Assembly, both houses of the legislature unanimously passed a law that increased the penalty for a driver who illegally passed a bus.

They named the legislation Isaac’s Law in honor of the 9-year-old who never saw the car coming. 

“Flashing Red. Kids Ahead.”

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