November 11, 2018

SPEARFISH — In recent weeks, this country has seen a number of children getting killed by drivers who failed to stop for school bus stop signs and lights.

It is a problem that Northern Hills bus drivers see as well, and they are worried about the day a child is hit here.

“It’s a very serious thing right now,” said Travis Ladson, vice president and owner of Dakota Trailways in Spearfish, which provides bus services for the Spearfish School District. “These kids’ lives should not be in danger getting off the school bus. These (drivers) should be stopping and paying attention.”

Ladson said each week, at least one of his school bus drivers reports a vehicle failing to stop for yellow or red lights on buses. Last week, five drivers reported such an incident.

“One of our biggest issues is getting the license plate and driver identified,” Ladson said.

He said his staff and Lawrence County officials recently conducted a survey of bus stops to ensure they are not located on blind corners and are as safe as possible.

But bottom line is that people need to stop for the buses, he said.

“Last week we had semi truck, out by St. Onge, go through (the stop lights and signs on a bus), and (the truck) had no markings on it,” he said.

It infuriates and concerns Ladson so much that he refuses to let his employees stop on Highway 34 at a bus stop. Instead, he requires them to use the driveways at designated stops.

“I am so sick and tired of it. Somebody is going to get hurt,” he said. “It’s not going to be one kid. It’s going to be a busload of kids.

“The Highway Patrol, the deputies, the police, they are doing everything they can. … I would never go after the law enforcement for not being there. They are trying,” Ladson added.

Capt. Pat Johnson with the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office said failing to stop for a stop sign on a bus is Class 2 misdemeanor and carries with it a $122.50 fine.

But getting an accurate description can be challenging for the bus drivers, he acknowledged. Bus drivers, he said, can lodge a complaint. Police will discuss the incident with the accused and can then cite the driver.

Bill Snow, maintenance and transportation supervisor for the Lead-Deadwood School District, said his drivers see the same violations weekly.

“We wee it quite often. (Tuesday) we saw it twice,” Snow said. “It’s definitely several times a week.”

“It’s disgusting. Our drivers need to pay a little better attention as to what’s going on,” he added.

Snow said that most violations occur in the afternoon, in his opinion. Fortunately, he said, no children have been struck.

“Our drivers watch pretty good before they even let the kids off the bus,” Snow said, “… If we see a driver about ready to go through the stop arm, we lay on the horn. But a lot of times they won’t stop.”

Snow said he would like to see the fine increase for people failing to stop – perhaps $500, he suggested, or “maybe a chance for some community service.”

Ladson said he too would like to see the fine increase.

“When it happens and a kid gets hit, is $500 even enough?” he asked. “I know it would make people pay attention more. But my ultimate thing is I don’t want it happening.”

“I know of one person who hit a kid about five years ago, and he can’t live with himself,” Ladson said. “He can’t live with himself and he didn’t even kill the kid.”

Ladson said there have been close calls locally, and even one child who was hit by a vehicle.

“The last one, the bus stopped at a crosswalk for a pedestrian and had its yellow lights on. Another driver went right around it,” he said.

Ladson said parents and children should pay attention and not cross the road directly in front of the bus.

“One of the best things you can do is have these kids get 10-15 feet out in front of the bus before they cross the road,” he said. “That gives the kids a chance to be seen or see those vehicles passing and stop. If they are up against that bus, there is no reaction time. It’s game over and it’s done. The farther you can get them out in front of that bus, the better all of us are.”

And to other drivers on the road, “Take a second. Just take a second. Let those red lights go off and then go do your thing,” he said.

Snow said other school districts see the same issues.

“I wish it wasn’t as big of a problem as it is,” Snow said. “I talk to drivers all over the state and they tell me the same thing. It’s a national problem.”

Ladson said his company is discussing getting cameras installed on bus stop signs to help in identifying drivers who run the signals.

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