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Failure to heed a school bus with red flashing lights endangers kids, carries stiff penalties

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Families bought new clothes and classroom supplies for their children, while preparing for the start of school this week. Alarm clocks will be set to make sure students wake up early enough to eat their breakfast and get ready in time to catch their bus.

The start of the new school year will also be an adjustment for drivers, many who will try to avoid getting stuck behind a school bus on the way to work.

“With school starting back up on Wednesday, we’re asking drivers to be extra careful around our bus stops and to be sure to watch out when they see bus lights come on,” Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza said.

Mike Lawlor, manager of All-Star Transportation’s Monroe bus terminal, said drivers passing a school bus with its lights on is the most common hazard his drivers face.

“It’s very dangerous and illegal, regardless of whether it’s on a public street or in a school parking lot,” he said. “In a parking lot it’s even more dangerous with kids running around.”

“They look at you like you did something wrong,” Steve Gardner, All-Star’s general manager

“It’s all the schools,” said Carol Vilmenay, a bus driver of 38 years. “The kids aren’t paying attention. They’re on their phones.”

Vilmenay said some parents who come to pick up their children at school seem oblivious to the bus lights flashing and the stop sign arm being out.

“We honk our horns at them,” said Breanne Curtis, another bus driver.

“They look at you like you did something wrong,” Steve Gardner, All-Star’s general manager, added.

Steep fines for violators

This sign outside Fawn Hollow Elementary School is a safety reminder for drivers.

Connecticut General Statute Section 14-279 is the law against failing to stop for a school bus. Drivers are slapped with a $475 infraction for a first offense and subsequent violations can result in a fine of up to $1,000, along with a potential 30-day jail sentence.

Monroe Police Lt. Michael Sweeney said each subsequent offense results in a misdemeanor summons, which is like a motor vehicle arrest.

The law does not just penalize civilians. The statute says a violator can be someone driving “an authorized emergency vehicle on a highway, private road, parking area or on school property who fails to stop such vehicle no closer than 10 feet from the front of or rear of a registered school bus, while its flashing red signal lights are enacted or after stopping proceeds while the lights are still flashing.”

If you pass a standing school bus in a construction, utility, traffic or fire station work zone, the infraction can be $925 for the first offense, according to state statutes.

Monroe police receive more complaints than the infractions that are issued. In 2022 and 2023, officers issued five infractions for provable violations.

Of the violations, four were issued to male drivers (including a juvenile) and one to a female driver. None were Monroe residents, according to Sweeney.

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