Many of the school buses on Wisconsin roads this fall will be giving other drivers more warning about when they are about to stop, although there may be limits on the effectiveness of the technology.
A new state law that took effect earlier this month requires school buses built after 2005 to be equipped with amber warning lights, in addition to the red warning lights and stop arms that indicate vehicles must not pass a stopped bus. State Patrol Lieutenant Karl Mittelstadt says the cautionary lights will flash as a warning for when a bus is about to stop and open its doors, improving safety for children getting on and off of buses.
Such early warning systems have proven effective in helping to protect students, says Nick Jarmusz with AAA-Wisconsin. However, he says current state laws could actually make it hard for buses operating in many cities to actually activate them in areas where they would be most effective. That’s because buses are actually prohibited from using those lights on any street that has sidewalks or curbs on both sides, unless there’s a local ordinance on the books that requires them to be used.
Jarmusz says the law, which dates back to the 1950s, means the amber lights cannot be used in many urban areas around the state. Cities such as Milwaukee, Appleton, and Eau Claire have no local ordinance on the books at all. Some cities, such as Madison and Green Bay, do have ordinances on the books, but they are limited to only allowing the devices to be used when a student needs to cross a street and there’s not a traffic control device present.
Jarmusz says the “lights are protecting students in the places where they are being used. In the places where they are not being used, students are being placed into a situation we know is not safe for them.”
Jarmusz says AAA plans to call on lawmakers to require the use of school bus warning lights in all situations during the next legislative session.