BILLINGS — Another school year is here, and parents may notice some changes when dropping their child off at the bus stop: The stop signs on the bus now extend much farther than before.
It's a change aimed at keeping children safer with a goal that "it’s going to force drivers to stop,” Billings Public Schools Transportation Director Keith Adams said on Thursday.
Montana is now the first state in the country to require that school buses have stop signs with stop arms attached if there are children who cross the road on a route.
“It’s an arm with a stop sign at the beginning of it and a stop sign at the end of it that sticks out 54 inches. So it’ll stick out into the other lane of traffic,” Adams said.
The law was motivated by Jordana Hubble of Whitefish. The then six-year-old was hit by a vehicle after getting off her school bus in November 2019. She sustained a traumatic brain injury but survived. Lawmakers passed the law during the last session, and Gov. Greg Gianforte signed it in May 2021.
Lawmakers and school districts hope the new extended arms will get more drivers to stop when a bus is stopped. When on a two-lane street, the long arms extend into the other lane of traffic and come out whenever the door of the bus is opened.
“It could very possibly cause damage to the car, and so that’s why drivers need to be aware,” said Adams.
Under Montana law, all drivers must stop when approaching a bus that has flashing red lights. Violators could receive large fines if caught. Unfortunately though, many get away with violating these laws. So the new, longer stop signs have Adams hopeful.
“You can’t just pass it and have no repercussion. If you pass it, you’re going to hit it and there’s going to be repercussions,” he said.
And Lockwood School District is taking the improvements one step further. District officials have decided to add cameras to the exteriors of their buses, with hopes of making it easier for drivers to record and report violations.
“A lot of times [the drivers] won’t actually have a chance to get the license plates. That’s where the cameras really come in place," Lockwood Schools Superintendent Tobin Novasio said on Monday.
All steps toward better protecting children on buses in Montana.
“Families entrust us with their most important asset every day… So we take that pretty seriously and busing is a huge part of that,” Novasio said.