WISCONSIN—School buses across Wisconsin transitioned to a new lighting system to better communicate with drivers as they approach a student’s stop.
The state of Wisconsin is the last of the 50 states to implement the eight-light system, which incorporates the use of amber lights that will flash as a warning to motorists before the red lights announce a stop.
“Up on top, the lights used to be all red before,” Russ Stratton, president of Stratton Buses, said. “When we turned on the switch in the bus, the two middle lights would flash red in the past. Then when you stop, the two outside ones would flash. For a person in Wisconsin, all of the lights were red, it didn’t make any difference.”
Most states adopted the eight-light system on school buses in the 1970s and 1980s, while Wisconsin remained the lone holdout to incorporate this safety feature until the new law passed earlier this year.
Stratton said school buses needed to have two of the four lights on both the front and the back of the bus changed from red to amber lenses. The buses also needed new switches to activate the amber lights indicating “caution.” When the bus stops and the door opens, the stop sign is activated, the crossing gate goes out and the red lights at the top of the school bus are activated.
Stratton said as long as the school bus is still moving, it is legal to pass, but once the bus has come to a complete stop, and it has its red lights activated with the stop sign and crossing gate out, all traffic should stop in both directions for the safety of the children, whether they are crossing the street or not. The yellow lights serve as a warning that the bus will be coming to a stop soon.
“It’s like when you come to a stop-and-go light when it turns yellow,” Stratton said. “It doesn’t mean you speed up and get through the light.”
Stratton said the amber lights are activated approximately 300 feet before stopping in a 45 mile per hour or greater speed zone or at least 100 feet before stopping in a speed zone less than 45 mph.
“I tell our drivers the sooner the better depending on the situation,” Stratton said. “I try to have them turn on the amber lights around 300 feet always.”
Stratton said the transition from red to amber lights on all 40 buses in his fleet took approximately two weeks to complete. Bus drivers will be educated on the change before school starts on Sept. 1. The change also included “Stop for flashing lights” being posted on the back of each bus to warn motorists.
School bus drivers are trained to report vehicles that fail to stop for a school bus, which carries a $263.50 fine, and improperly passing a school bus, a $326.50 fine.
“It’s against the law to not stop for a school bus, but more importantly, our children are counting on you for their safety in getting to school and home,” the Wisconsin School Bus Association stated in a recent press release.
Anybody with questions about the school buses or transportation are encouraged to contact Stratton or stop down. The 4K students who may have never been on a bus before are invited to the office in Cuba City to tour a bus before school starts.