BATTLE LAKE — This past fall, bus drivers in Battle Lake had witnessed too many close calls as they dropped children off in the area east of Fergus Falls.
People were simply ignoring flashing lights and the activated stop sign. This fall alone, three vehicles ignored buses stopped with lights flashing on busy Highway 210, the district said. Video of the incidents worried school officials.
"It is very scary — it is a nightmare we have — and seeing it there, I am appalled," Battle Lake Superintendent Darren Kern said.
When bus driver Dirk Seims pulls up at Battle Lake Public Schools to pick up students, one thing is on his mind: Getting them home safely.
"The most uneasy feeling is picking kids up because it is just out of your control," Seims said. "It's very dangerous when you have little kids crossing roads — there is no other way to look at it."
Out of concern for children's safety, Seims uses an intercom to tell them when it is safe to approach the bus.
To prevent a tragedy, the school district went bigger and better. For a little over $2,000, a 6-foot-long arm is now attached to Seims' bus.
"It extends out wider so it is more visible (and) extends into the other lane of traffic," he explained. "(It's) hard to run through that."
The stop arm is not only affixed with another stop sign but flashing strobes, too. It's hard to imagine someone not seeing it or running into it.
As Seims dove his route Tuesday, Feb. 11, it was apparent that the longer stop arm is making a difference. It's tough for cars to not see the 6-foot arm. Battle Lake school officials are pleased with the results and plan to install the arms on any other buses that serve routes troubled by vehicles not stopping.
The district's goal now is to get the word out.
"We have not had any issues in the last two and a half months," said Paul Stadtler, a bus mechanic for the school. "It is working and I want it to be working all across the state."