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Legislator seeks school bus safety on private roads

PHOENIX — Requiring school buses to flash lights and display stop signs while picking up or letting off children on private roads would help prevent accidents like one that claimed the life of an eastern Arizona girl in 2008, a state lawmaker said.

Current law only covers public roadways. HB 2170, authored by Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, would expand the requirement to all roads.

Fann said the bill was prompted in part by the death of 8-year-old Elizabeth Bates, who was struck by a truck while exiting a school bus inside a Safford mobile home park.

“As anybody knows, in rural Arizona we have thousands of miles (or roads) that are not necessarily public,” Fann said.

The House Transportation Committee, which Fann chairs, unanimously endorsed the bill Thursday after approving an amendment by Fann stating that the change wouldn’t apply to buses stopped in parking lots.

Yvonne Hunter, an attorney with the law firm Fennemore Craig, which represented Bates’ family, said the change would be especially important in rural areas, where private and public roads aren’t always identified, and in neighborhoods such as gated communities where private roads still get a lot of traffic.

“To the extent that an HOA resident is inconvenienced for the few seconds for that child to get off of the school bus, it’s our position that it’s worth it because at the end of the day, the child will be in a safer situation,” she said.

Dean Humphrey, transportation director for Pendergast Elementary School District in the West Valley, said he supported the bill but would like it to include parking lots, such as those at day care centers and strip malls.

He also said school buses should activate hazard lights while in loading zones.

“School bus zones, loading and unloading zones are some of the most hazardous around,” he said. “Parents are sometimes hurrying, and I think adding this would clear up some of the confusion about what is public and what is private.”

In a telephone interview, James Goodnow, a Fennemore Craig attorney, said the change also would help in urban areas because many neighborhoods have private roads.

“What we’re trying to do is save lives and make sure what happened to Elizabeth never happens again,” Goodnow said.

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