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As kids head back to school, motorists should remember to use caution

school busSchool buses and crossing guards have returned to city streets, as children throughout Woodbury head back to school. It's the time of year when the Public Safety Department reminds motorists to drive carefully, watch for children, and observe all laws pertaining to school zone safety.

In addition to the normal everyday traffic laws that drivers are familiar with, there are also traffic laws designed specifically to protect our children as they travel to and from school. The Woodbury Police Department makes an effort to educate motorists and enforce laws, particularly when school starts back in session.

Officers monitor motorists for compliance with laws governing school bus stop arms, crosswalks, and speed limits in school zones.

While most people are aware of these laws, hectic lives tend to cause motorists to want to cheat a little, and this can cause accidents. Distracted driving is a concern any time of the day, but it's especially alarming when it comes to school zones.

Minnesota traffic law prohibits using electronic devices while behind the wheel, even if stopped in traffic. This includes texting, email - anything outside of a phone call, really.

Stop for the buses
Failing to stop for school buses when the stop arm is extended is a serious violation which, depending on the circumstances, can result in a substantial fine, loss of driving privileges, or even jail time. The Woodbury Police Department investigates every complaint reported by school bus drivers, who jot down license plate numbers of offending vehicles.

Motorists should know what is required whenever the flashing amber or flashing red lights of a school bus are activated. The Minnesota State Patrol provides the following descriptions:

  • School bus pre-warning signals: The flashing amber lights are meant to warn other drivers that the school bus is preparing to load or unload students. Upon observing a school bus displaying flashing amber lights, be extra alert for children in the area and be prepared to stop. It is a gross misdemeanor to pass or attempt to pass on the right side of a school bus displaying the amber flashing warning lights.
  • School bus red lights and stop arm: When the school bus is stopped with its flashing red lights activated and its stop arm extended, traffic from both directions must stop at least 20 feet away from the school bus. Motorists must remain stopped until the stop arm is retracted and the red lights are no longer flashing. The only time motorists are not required to stop for a school bus with its red lights flashing is when the bus is on a separate roadway. A separate roadway means a road that is separated from a parallel road by a safety isle or safety zone.

More safety reminders
School buses aren't the only concern with the kids going back to school. Pedestrian safety at crosswalks in Woodbury also is critical. The law is unequivocal: Drivers must yield to pedestrians. This pertains to all school crossings and crosswalks throughout the city.

Following are some additional school safety reminders for motorists:

  • Observe school zone speed limits. These are either 20 or 25 mph, and are clearly posted and strictly enforced when children are present.
  • Do not pass on the shoulder.
  • You must stop when a school patrol member has his/her flag extended at an intersection or crossing. Think of the flag as the red light of a traffic signal.
  • Yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. This law pertains to all school crossings and crosswalks throughout the city.
Teach children

While safety messages often go primarily to drivers, it's important for parents to instruct their children in safe crossing practices, and also in school bus safety. Children need to be shown how to judge if there is adequate time to cross a street. They must be alert and cautious at all crossings, and never enter a road from between parked cars.

Students also should be told to:

  • Wait for the school bus at least 10 feet from the road - further if the weather is bad.
  • Remember that motorists may not always stop for the school bus as they should. When crossing the road, wait for a signal to cross from the bus driver, then look left, right, and left again, and continue to look and listen as they cross the road.
  • Never cross behind the school bus.
  • Stay out of the danger zones of the school bus (10 feet around the bus). Make sure they can see the bus driver and the bus driver can see them!
  • Wait until the school bus has come to a complete stop before approaching the bus.
  • Walk facing traffic on neighborhood streets where there are no trails or sidewalks.
Questions relating to school bus or school zone safety can be directed to the Public Safety Department at (651) 714-3600.