Hazard light stops now common among school buses


By Kelli Ameling • Last Updated 2:21 pm on Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Yellow overhead lights on a school bus, as seen above, signal that the bus is coming to a stop and will be turning overhead lights turn to red, stopping traffic in all directions. However, If yellow hazard lights are on and the bus is to the far right of the roadway or on the shoulder, traffic can continue on around the bus with caution. — Daily News/Cory Smith

To help reduce traffic backups on major roadways, local school districts have migrated toward using hazard light stops on certain bus routes.

The most recent school district to operate under the new lighting system is Greenville Public Schools, which implemented the changes on Jan. 7.

“While past practices have been to use full overhead stops, we have determined via conversation with the Michigan Association for Pupil Transportation, visual and physically driving and considering (red-light and hazard-light stops), we have concluded the safest stop will be the use of hazard lights,” a Greenville Public Schools press release stated. “The hazard light stop will allow the traffic to flow unobstructed while providing the safety of pupils boarding and exiting the bus.”

 

Hazard light stops

In Montcalm County, students ranging from 2 to 26 years old are on buses from seven school districts, along with the Montcalm Area Intermediate School District and EightCAP Inc., which transport special-needs and pre-school students, according to Dee Evans, transportation director at the MAISD.

Evans complied information from the school districts to help people understand why hazard light stops have been implemented throughout the area.

Hazard light stops have been around for many years, she said, and they have recently become popular because of the increase of vehicles on the road.

A Belding school bus stops traffic Tuesday afternoon while dropping students off at a residence. — Daily News/Cory Smith

“In general, most districts do hazard light stops on the highways and busy roads where they can get off the roadway and the children do not need to cross the street,” Evans said. “Hazard light stops are done to help prevent the backup of traffic due to the length of time needed at a bus stop.”

Evans noted some stops can take more time, especially if a child requires a car seat or a wheelchair needs to be loaded or unloaded.

Buses that use hazard lights instead of blinking red lights do not obstruct the flow of traffic, which prevents rear-end collisions or vehicles trying to stop on a main road at high rates of speed, according to Evans.

“There are guidelines to making a bus stop a hazard light stop,” Evans explained. “Each bus stop that is considered for a hazard light stop is evaluated. Hazard light stops are considered to be much safer.”

 

Guidelines

Belding Area Schools Transportation Director Dick Brondsema said the school has been using the hazard light system since it was introduced in 2004.

Brondsema said this type of stop is only allowed in certain stops to ensure safety for motorists and students and specifies the following conditions:

• Students cannot be crossing the road.

• The bus must be completely out of the traffic lane if the speed limit is over 45 miles per hour

• The bus cannot impede the flow of traffic in zones less than 45 miles per hour.

• Hazard light stops cannot be used if there are more than two lanes of traffic.

“We have never had an accident or injury associated with the use of a hazard light stop nor am I aware of any problems in other districts,” Brondsema said. “While I do not believe the red light stop is a hazard if used all the time, I feel there are real advantages to making use of the hazard light stop.

 

Driver feedback

Dennis Lance, the transportation director for Carson City-Crystal Area Schools, said CC-C uses the hazard light stop on M-57 and M-66, noting the advantage of this kind of stop does not interfere with the flow of traffic.

However, Lance said drivers do get confused and still stop when they see the hazard lights on buses, which is dangerous when other drivers are not planning to stop.

“It does confuse motorists,” he said. “It could make roads safer when used properly and if the public were better educated.”

Lakeview Community Schools has been using the hazard light stops for five years, according to Transportation Director Jackie Bartlett. She agreed with Lance that the system does cause confusion among drivers, but noted confusion has always been a problem.

“On the highways, such as M-91, where we cannot get off the roadway (to) use a hazard light stop, almost daily we have motorists who run our red lights and it is very difficult to stop the traffic on the highway,” Bartlett said. “Luckily, on M-91, we do not allow students to cross the road, even with our red lights on.”

Tri County Area Schools Transportation Director Linda Dixon said Tri County does not use hazard light stops at this time, but noted it could be a possibility in the future.

“As traffic increases and motorists become educated on the difference between overhead light stops versus the hazard light stops, it is a possibility to consider,” she said.

The only way to make roads safer, Dixon said, are for drivers to be alert and know the laws.

Evans agreed and explained what drivers should look for.

“When motorists do not understand the traffic laws about school buses and stop for a bus that is on the shoulder of the road with their hazard lights on, does make for a dangerous situation,” Evans said. “Motorists need to know that when they see the overhead yellow lights on, it is like a traffic signal and they should slow down and be prepared to stop when the overhead lights turn to red.  If they see the hazard lights on, and the bus is to the far right of the roadway or on the shoulder, they can continue on around the bus with caution.”

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