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Stop for the school bus!

Students attending classes at Archuleta School District 50 Joint schools beware. While boarding or disembarking from school buses, your lives may be in danger.

According to District Maintenance and Transportation Director Dolly Martin, an apparent increase in motorist bus stop violations has bus drivers, students and parents concerned. While Martin suggests such violations are fairly common throughout most school years, the district has seen a rash of incidents in recent weeks.

“In the afternoon on Lewis Street, we pretty much block the entire street next to the junior high for about 10 minutes,” she explained, “and just the other day, a woman picking up her kids actually drove between the buses and the sidewalk.”

As Martin tapped on the rear of the vehicle and confronted the driver, the woman explained that she was just trying to get out of there. While acknowledging the presence of several students before her, she said they were OK and that she was watching for them.

Martin, however, said students seldom pay close attention to nearby motorists, especially between the buses and sidewalk. Instead, those wanting to cross the street are watching for bus drivers to signal when the coast is clear for a safe crossing. At times, as many as 10 buses may temporarily park on Lewis Street, as junior high and middle school students board buses for the trip home.

“If people are wanting to pick up kids at the junior high,” Martin added, “they should obviously be aware that they can’t get through from 3:30 to about 3:40 (p.m.). The road is pretty much blocked.”

In a phone interview earlier this week, Martin said most bus stop violations involve motorists from opposing traffic. Often, as a school bus stops to pick up or disembark children, vehicles traveling in the opposite direction ignore the flashing lights and stop sign, apparently believing signals are intended to halt traffic behind, and in the same lane as, the bus.

According to Martin, most violations occur at bus stops along area highways where opposing traffic travels at much higher rates of speed. Unfortunately, bus drivers are so busy monitoring traffic flow and the students’ whereabouts, that they seldom have time to catch a license plate number.

“We’re getting more and more on the highways,” she said, “especially along U.S. 160 by Astraddle A Saddle. While disembarking students, though, it’s almost impossible to get a license number and the police can’t really do anything without that.”

On Monday, meanwhile, Martin said a bus driver reported a young “runner” driving a green Subaru through Pagosa Vista Estates. As the motorist passed the stopped bus — with sign out and lights flashing — the bus driver yelled, but the motorist continued on, apparently oblivious to the circumstances.

“When you see a stopped school bus,” Martin exclaimed, “you need to pay attention.”

Martin said school district buses transport approximately 1,200 students around the county every school day, counting both morning and afternoon runs. Buses travel as far north as Hatcher and as far south as the Chromo store, as well as 22 miles down Trujillo Road. While carrying students to and from San Juan River Village to the east, buses also pick up and deliver students west at Cat Creek Road. In all, 14 different routes rack up about 740 miles a day.

While school bus drivers are trained to watch for bus stop violators, keeping track of students and assuring their safety is top priority. Nevertheless, Archuleta County Sheriff Pete Gonzalez insists that if drivers can record an offender’s license number, his department will contact the individual.

Depending on the circumstances, though, an offender may or may not receive a citation. According to county undersheriff John Weiss, should a bus stop runner receive a summons, it results in a mandatory court appearance and, upon conviction, a six-point license violation. In extreme cases, a perpetrator may be fined between $150 to $300, and sentenced to between 10 and 90 days in jail.

Fundamentally, to avoid hassles with the law, never mind preventing serious injury (or worse) to a child, the obvious approach to encountering a school bus with lights and stop sign activated is to stop — whichever your direction of travel. In fact, the law requires motorists to stop at least 20 feet short of such buses.

It’s the law … and it’s common sense.

chuck@pagosasun.com