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New law requires buses to use stop signs, lights on private roads

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PHOENIX – Starting next school year, school buses in Arizona will be required to use stop signs and flash warning lights even on privately owned roads.

The law, recently signed by Gov. Jan Brewer, was prompted by the 2008 death of an 8-year-old Elizabeth Bates, who was hit by a truck when she exited a school bus in a Safford mobile home park. The bus she was on wasn’t using its stop sign or lights at the time.

HB 2170, authored by Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, will expand requirements for school buses that currently apply to public roads.

“It’s for their safety,” said Fann, the chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee. “We can’t let another little girl get killed.”

The law will take effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session.

Yvonne Hunter, an attorney with the law firm Fennemore Craig, which represented the Bates’ family, brought the idea to Fann and helped draft the legislation. She said the family wanted to prevent other families from losing children.

“Anything we can do to make things safer for kids saves lives,” Hunter said. “Children just aren’t aware what’s going on around them, and we need to help.”

Hunter said the law will remove any confusion bus drivers may have about using stop signs and warning lights beyond public roads, as well as making it clear that other vehicles must stop regardless of where a bus is located.

Dean Humphrey, director of transportation for Pendergast Elementary School District in the West Valley, said the law will support what his district already is doing. Its buses use stop signs and flashing lights whether they are on public roads or stopped in a strip mall parking lot, he said.

“When someone honks at a driver for putting out the arm in a spot they don’t think is appropriate, the driver knows he’s just following the law,” Humphrey said.

Failure to stop at for a bus is a civil penalty of $250 on the first violation. Humphrey said he wants a steeper fine.

“A bigger penalty won’t be a big deterrent, but it won’t hurt,” he said. “And I’d like to see that money put in a student safety fund.”

The new law also will apply to private roads governed by homeowners associations, such as those in gated communities.

Linda Lang, president and CEO of the Arizona Association of Community Managers, said she’s never heard of this being an issue on roads owned by HOAs. She said bus stops for children who live in gated communities often are on adjacent public roads.

“We’re in support of the law,” she said. “We support the safety of children. I can’t imagine this being an issue in an HOA community.”