A frightening incident of a sixth-grader nearly getting hit by a truck that illegally passed her Minnesota school bus prompted a discussion between her parents, student transporters and safety officials on school bus safety.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety hosted a press conference on Monday following the release earlier of video that shows a December 2016 illegal-passing incident. It shows then 11-year-old Miana Rhoades getting off the bus and beginning to cross the street when the school bus driver blasts his horn to alert her to a rapidly approaching pickup truck. Miana stops short and the truck tears past, just missing her.
The live panel discussion included Joyce and Les Rhoades, Miana's parents, as well as Bruce Gordon with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Lt. Brian Reu of the Minnesota State Patrol, Police officer Danielle Waage of the Rosemount Police Department, and school bus driver Kathy Eiden.
The Rhoades shared that the day of the incident was an emotional one for the entire family, as Miana walked into the house crying as she told her parents that “she truly felt that she was going to die.”
“As a parent, how do you handle that? How do you explain that to an 11-year-old?” asked Les.
Joyce said she didn’t believe that the truck driver’s eventual conviction would have been achieved without a video recording of the incident. She expressed her gratefulness for the transportation department’s cooperation and dedication, adding that “if Les or I didn’t feel that adequate controls were in place to help meet Miana’s needs, she would not be riding the school bus again.”
With “more than 25 years of safety and risk control management experience,” including three years of school bus safety work with a large school bus contractor after 9/11, Joyce said she started speaking out on the topic of illegal passing when she “saw an opportunity to help reduce the potential that another child or school bus driver may be harmed. The injuries may be more than physical.”
Officer Waage stressed the importance of training students on safe behavior practices on and around the school bus. Eiden said she focuses on training children to stand appropriately at the bus stop, to behave safely on the bus, and to board and disembark in an orderly manner. That includes having kids wait for a signal from her before proceeding across the street. “But I can’t control other drivers,” she stated.
In her 23 years on the job, Eident said she’s witnessed two motorists hit students who fortunately were not seriously injured. “It was really traumatizing to myself as a witness, the kids it happened to, and the drivers,” she said. “I know it can happen in a moment’s notice.”
“Unfortunately, what happened to Miana is not unique,” said Officer Waage. Minnesota law enforcement officers have written citations for almost 9,000 stop arm violations over the past six years. This past spring, school bus drivers across the state recorded 703 illegal passing violations during a one-day count conducted for the annual National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation survey.
Officer Waage said that she believes some illegal passes are not reported because they occur so quickly and bus drivers are unable to note a vehicle description or license plate information because they are focused on the safety of their students.
Lt. Reu talked about the Minnesota School Bus Operators Association’s push for a new state law that went into effect Aug. 1 and raised the fines from $300 to $500 for illegal school bus passers. They did so, he said, not only to keep people accountable but also to raise awareness and serve as a deterrent to the violation.
“I think a lot of it comes down to distracted driving. People aren’t paying attention,” he said. “Keep the distractions away and just be aware.”
“Kids like Miana shouldn’t need to live in fear that the next time they get off the bus might be the last.” Officer Waage added.
Joyce Rhoades had some strong words to close out the discussion, telling illegal passers to “knock it off."
"Because I’m going to be there, helping you go to jail," she added.
Watch a school bus safety video produced for students by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety: