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Lawmakers target school bus safety
Installing cameras on school buses to record motorists who ignore stop signals is among the options being considered by Wyoming legislators. Photo by Wayne Nicholls

Lawmakers target school bus safety

Jun 6, 2013 - By Bob Moen, The Associated Press

The discussion is being driven by students and staff members at Wind River School District 6, sparked by the 2011 death of an 11-year-old girl as she exited her school bus.

Nine students around the nation, including one in Wyoming, died at or near school bus stops in 2011.

The horror of that death and the number of drivers who disregard rules involving buses stopped for students has prompted a Wyoming legislative committee to consider ways to increase safety.

Initially, the interim Joint Education Committee will work from a new Iowa law that increases penalties for failing to heed school bus warning devices. In addition, lawmakers expressed interest in equipping all Wyoming school buses with cameras that can capture images of violators.

Work on a proposal will begin this summer, with a bill possibly going to the full Legislature next year.

The discussion on school bus safety is being driven by students and staff members at Fremont County School District 6.

On Dec. 20, 2011, a district student -- 11-year-old MaKayla Marie Strahle of Crowheart -- was struck and killed as she crossed a highway after getting off a school bus that had its flashing lights activated.

The driver of the vehicle was convicted of several misdemeanor charges, including homicide by vehicle.

Diana Clapp, superintendent of the school district, said a dozen students have been working hard to research the safety issue and come up with solutions. Clapp and several students made a presentation on Monday to the Joint Education Committee in Casper.

"This is tied to a tragic loss of a young girl in our school and community and their classmate and friend," Clapp said Wednesday. "But I believe they did a good job in addition to that personal testimony looking to see what other states are doing and how it would apply across the state."

The district has installed cameras on six school buses to record vehicles that illegally pass -- an action called a drive-by or fly-by.

Clapp said the rural district, which encompasses about 1,300 square miles, includes about 400 kindergarten through 12th grade students, and many rely on school buses for transportation.

"Students on the road is a big issue for us -- either on buses or driving themselves to and from school," she said.

In addition to tougher penalties and bus cameras, Clapp said she'd like to see safer practices involving unloading and road crossings made standard across the state.

Wyoming, which has been tracking fly-bys since 1999, counted 297 in one day in 2011-12. Over the entire school year that figure could have reached an estimated 52,000 violations, said David Koskelowski, program manager for traffic safety and pupil transportation with the state Education Department.

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