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With school back in session, law enforcement is reminding motorists to drive carefully around those halls of learning and to stop for school buses that have red lights flashing and stop arms extended.

Drivers who don't stop for school buses can be hit with a $500 fine — an increase of $200 thanks to a new law that went into effect Aug. 1.

Minnesotans have a bad habit of running past stopped school buses picking up or dropping off children. In the most recent School Bus Stop Arm Survey, more than 3,600 bus drivers from across the state reported 703 violations in a single day. Police handed out 1,318 citations in 2016 and have issued nearly 9,000 tickets to offending drivers over the past six years, according to the Department of Public Safety.

"When motorists violate the law, it puts the lives of children at risk," said Col. Matt Langer of the State Patrol. Last winter a driver violated the school bus stop-arm law and hit three Rogers High School students as they went to board their bus at Parrish Avenue NE. and 78th Street in Otsego. The students suffered serious injuries.

"Drivers should always be looking out for school buses and expect those buses to make frequent stops during the morning and afternoon school hours," Langer said. "Pay attention and stop for buses to keep our children safe."

Flashing amber lights indicate that a school bus is preparing to stop to pick up or drop off students. Drivers should prepare to stop and be aware of children in the vicinity.

On undivided roads, drivers must stop at least 20 feet from a school bus that has a red light flashing and a stop arm extended. Drivers must remain stopped until the arm has been retracted and red lights are no longer flashing.

Drive reader Anita said she's all for stopping for school buses, but wonders how the law applies on a road separated with a median.

"On my regular route home, there is a median in the road, but that median ends to allow left-hand turns and then another median begins," she wrote in an e-mail. "I'm on the opposite side of that median [from the bus], but do I stop for the bus? About every other time I stop and wait for the students to disembark, [and] I get cars behind me honking. I know drivers do not need to stop when there is a median in the road, but what if there is a break in the median?"

Motorists are not required to stop if they approach or meet a stopped school bus with flashing red lights that is on the opposite side of a separated roadway, and that includes when there is a short gap for things such as turn lanes. In those cases, the road is still considered divided, said Aaron Machtemes of the Eagan Police Department. State statutes define a divided roadway as one that is separated from a parallel road by a safety isle or safety zone — so opposite-side drivers don't have to stop, he said.

Mike Torkelson of AAA Minneapolis said buses are not supposed to drop off students within any intersection, and the bus driver cannot allow students to cross a street with a physical barrier such as a median, "so there should be no legal or practical way for students to be around your vehicle in that area at all," he said. With that said, "I would say don't stop for the bus loading or unloading, but as always be cautious and on the lookout for any potentially unsafe situations."

Police officers who have probable cause that a driver violated a school bus stop arm have up to four hours to investigate and issue a citation if warranted, according to Minnesota law.

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