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Wisconsin Law Changes School Bus Lighting Specs, Clarifies Use of Lights at Stops

A new law enacted last month reversed a previous requirement that Wisconsin school bus companies retrofit older buses to meet current state standards for exterior lights.

Assembly Bill 281, introduced by Rep. Keith Ripp at the request of the state Department of Transportation, removed a previous requirement that bus companies buy only from vendors that offer Wisconsin-legal buses with lighting configurations that were “out of sync” with federal requirements. Otherwise, the bus companies had to manually cut wires, remove light bulbs and change lenses on their own to make the buses compliant with state law.

During testimony on the Assembly floor last summer, Ripp explained that at the time it was unlawful for Wisconsin to operate newly built buses with the lighting package installed by the vehicle manufacturer at the factory. As a result, school bus companies and school districts had to purchase older models of buses that met the state-specific rules.

This can cause a safety issue because the models are not as up-to-date and more prone to breakage,” he added. “This bill simply brings Wisconsin law in line with federal regulations.”

The new law also mandates how drivers of school buses equipped with strobe lights are to use the amber and red flashing lights at stops to load and unload students. School bus drivers traveling in a zone that’s 45 mph or greater must actuate the amber warning lights at least 300 feet before stopping. The lights must be turned on at least 100 feet before stopping on a road with a posted speed limit below 45 mph.

When the bus is fully stopped, the amber lights are to be deactivated and the flashing red warning lights engaged as students begin loading or unloading. After all students are on or off the bus, and any students have finished crossing the street, bus drivers are then required to turn off the flashing red lights.

Buses equipped with only red flashing lights, plus the flashing white strobe, will still activate the lights in the way prescribed under current law.

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