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A 'Bright Light' for student safety: Elementary students given flashing lights to use at bus stops

Greg Liedl, transportation coordinator for Bemidji Area Schools, passes out reflectorized tri-function flashing lights to students on Monday at Northern Elementary School. The lights can be used at bus stops on dark mornings. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 2
Children can clip the lights onto their backpacks so they can be seen on dark mornings. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 2

BEMIDJI—Some Bemidji Area Schools students could be a little more visible, and hopefully a little safer, this year.

Transportation staff at the school district bought a few hundred reflectorized tri-function flashing lights for students who live along Bemidji area's busiest roads and highways to attach to their coat or backpack. The red blinking lights look like the flashers cyclists wear and can help drivers spot students as they wait to get picked up in the early-morning darkness.

"Turn it on when you're waiting for the bus," Greg Liedl, the school district's transportation coordinator, told a group of Northern Elementary students Monday morning. "And make it flash so that the bus drivers see it...I told my guys that are driving buses to look for these little lights."

Liedl handed out the lights to students at Northern who live along high-speed, high-traffic roads like Irvine Avenue and Highway 89. Regardless of which elementary they attend, students who are picked up near Highway 2, Highway 71, and Bemidji Avenue are also in line to get the blinking lights, which have a small "Bemidji Area Schools" logo printed on the front. Liedl also encouraged kids to wear blaze orange hunting gear or other brightly-colored clothes, and mentioned a student who was easy to spot in her light-up shoes.

The lights are part of the district's "Bright Light" pilot program and staff are distributing them at the outset of National School Bus Safety Week. This year's theme is "# STOP ON RED," according to the National Association for Pupil Transportation's website.

Monday's small presentation at Northern happened a little more than a year after a Thief River Falls 7-year-old was struck and killed by a passing minivan as he crossed the street towards a waiting school bus. Liedl said the boy's death was one of the impetuses behind the new program.

Liedl said he plans to give Bemidji-area law enforcement some of the lights, too, so officers and deputies can hand them out to kids.

Beyond watching for the flashing red lights, here are driver safety tips from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety:

• Motorists must stop at least 20 feet from a school bus that is displaying red flashing lights and/or its stop arm is extended when approaching from the rear and from the opposite direction on undivided roads.

• Red flashing lights on buses indicates students are either entering or exiting the bus.

• Motorists are not required to stop for a bus if the bus is on the opposite side of a separated roadway (median, etc.) — but they should remain alert for children.

• Altering a route or schedule to avoid a bus is one way motorists can help improve safety. In doing so, motorists won't find themselves behind a bus and as a result, potentially putting children at risk.

• Watch for school crossing patrols and pedestrians. Reduce speeds in and around school zones.

• Watch and stop for pedestrians — the law applies to all street corners, for both marked and unmarked crosswalks (all street corners) — every corner is a crosswalk.

And here are some department of public safety tips for students:

• When waiting for the bus: Be patient, stand back from road and no running or rowdy behavior.

• When on the bus: stay seated, listen to the driver and use quiet voices.

• It's important for parents to discuss and demonstrate pedestrian safety with their children and reinforce safe crossing after exiting a bus:

• When getting off a bus, look to be sure no cars are passing on the shoulder (side of the road).

• Before crossing the street, take five "giant steps" out from the front of the bus, or until the driver's face can be seen.

• Wait for the driver to signal that it's safe to cross.

• Look left-right-left when coming to the edge of the bus to make sure traffic is stopped. Keep watching traffic when crossing.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education (mostly K-12) and American Indian affairs for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He's from Minneapolis, earned a degree from the College of St. Benedict - St. John's University in 2009, and worked at the Perham Focus near Detroit Lakes and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis before heading to the Pioneer.

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