It’s a story that’s been reported before. Drivers in and around Cody are blowing past school buses with their red lights flashing and with their stop signs extended, a so-called “fly-by.” This year, it’s on pace to be worse than last.
“People try really creative things to get around the extended stop-arms,” said Sam Hummel, the transportation director for the Cody School District. “It just means ‘Stop.’”
Hummel said that drivers have tried to creep by the bus while the red lights are flashing, have crossed over the centerline to go around a bus, and have nearly hit students on more than one occasion.
“Everyone who works in people transportation deals with life,” Hummel said. “We transport the most precious cargo. If a train derails and wrecks a couple of Equinoxes, you can build more Equinoxes. You cannot replace someone's child.”
As of Oct. 6, the Cody Police Department had issued two citations for running past stop-arms or a school bus’s flashing red lights, with the first coming on the second day of school. The Department also issued 26 warnings and two citations for speeding in a school zone and received another three complaints about violations.
Not every complaint made by the district makes it into the police blotter, though, and Lt. Jason Stafford said that while the number of complaints did not go up exponentially, there has been a “noticeable uptick.”
Hummel said the district is on pace to record 100 violations by the end of December, or 1.3 violations every school day.
School buses throughout the state are equipped with a camera that activates whenever the stop-arm is activated, used to record the plates of people making illegal passes. A change to state statutes last year allowed fines to be sent to the registered owner of the vehicle if the driver could not be identified.
“We try not to put people in a compromising position,” Hummel said. “When the bus lights start flashing yellow, you should start slowing down. One hundred feet before the stop, [bus drivers] are supposed to activate the yellow flashing lights.”
Though some might accuse tourists or Big Horn County residents of being the source of the problem, Hummel disagrees.
“It’s mostly Cody residents, or at least Park County,” Hummel said. “People say, ''9ers are so bad at driving.' We haven’t had one yet [on film]. It’s mostly been '11s.’”
Hummel said the district is working with local, county and state police to increase enforcement efforts, particularly on the North Fork and on Beck Avenue, to catch drivers creating a dangerous situation for the students.
State laws regarding what to do when a bus is stopped and has its lights flashing have not changed since the previous year.
Drivers near a bus should slow down when yellow lights flash, come to a complete stop when red lights are flashing and the stop-arm is extended, and wait to move again until the bus starts moving, according to the Park County Sheriff’s Office website.
These rules apply not only to drivers following a bus but those in oncoming traffic as well. Even on four-lane roads, drivers in oncoming lanes must come to a stop when the red lights flash. The exception to this rule is on a divided road with a median, but no such roads exist in Cody.
“We urge drivers traveling in the areas of Cody’s schools to pay extra attention while approaching school buses,” Stafford said. “It is important for drivers to follow the school buses’ signals to ensure the safety of our students.”