Judges must levy full fines to drivers in school bus cases

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: January 9 2013 | 9:18 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 9:47 am in

By The Mason City Globe-Gazette

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Anyone who has ever been ticketed by a cop for, say, speeding when not knowing the limit is told ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law.

So we don’t understand why Iowa judges are not assessing higher fines to drivers who illegally pass stopped school buses as required in “Kadyn’s Law.”

Yet that’s what happening. A study by Iowa State University shows 65 percent of those convicted of school bus violations were assessed lower fees than the law states.

The law is named for Kadyn Halvorson, 7, of rural Kensett, who was hit by a pickup and killed in 2011 while walking to her school bus. The pickup driver, Aaron Gunderson of Northwood, was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

After much work by family and friends, Kadyn’s Law was passed in March. It strengthened the law that requires motorists come to a complete stop when approaching a stopped school bus with lights flashing. It sets a minimum $250 fine for offenders but that can be raised to $675 and 30 days in jail for additional violations.

However, the Iowa State study, conducted between Aug. 15 and Oct. 31, shows that of 162 convictions, 65 percent received lower fines — some as low as $60.

Which left Iowa Department of Education school transportation director Max Christensen puzzled.

“A big part of Kadyn’s law was the fact that the fines were supposed to rise significantly,” he said. “If those procedures are not being followed, where’s the deterrent?”

Where, indeed?

It’s hard to imagine not knowing about Kadyn’s Law. Her tragic death made statewide news, as did the effort to strengthen the school bus laws when the aforementioned friends and family lobbied the Legislature long and hard, starting with the opening day of the session.

Yet Iowa Judicial Branch spokesman Steve Davis said it’s possible not all judges and magistrates were aware of the date of the law change.

We can only hope that’s not the case with all laws. Yet reluctantly, we’re willing to give them a pass on this one, mainly because what’s done is done.

But they have no excuse any more: A notice was sent to judges Nov. 15 reminding them of the change.

There’s no questioning the importance of this law. An Iowa State and University of Iowa study on school bus safety in Iowa — required by the passage of Kadyn’s Law — drew headlines when it highlighted the dangers of vehicles that illegally pass stopped buses. The potential for tragedy is there every time a school bus stops to pick up or drop off a child.

That’s why every person who breaks the law must receive the higher fine. And the word has to get out to everyone who drives a car: Passing a stopped school bus with its lights flashing is a very serious violation.

No one should ever again have to go through the pain Kadyn’s family did because of a random act of carelessness.

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