By Representative Bruce Braley
The sight of a bright yellow school bus with its red lights flashing, slowing down in front of a country home, is a common sight in Iowa. But on a beautiful morning last May outside of Northwood, the unthinkable happened.
Kadyn Halverson, 7, saw her school bus slow to a stop in front of her home that day. She crossed the street to climb aboard. Like my own three kids and many other Iowa children, she took the flashing red lights as an article of faith that it was safe to cross.
But that morning, it wasn't. A pickup truck driver traveling at 60 miles per hour ignored the warning signs and passed the stopped school bus, striking and killing Kadyn. The driver fled and later was convicted of vehicular homicide.
Since the tragedy, the Kadyn's family has worked tirelessly to honor her legacy by pushing the Iowa Legislature to strengthen penalties for drivers who ignore warning lights and illegally pass school buses.
Their efforts were rewarded last month when Gov. Terry Branstad signed "Kadyn's Law," which mandates fines of at least $250 and up to $675, plus the possibility of jail time, for first-time offenders of school bus traffic safety laws. For a second conviction within five years, repeat offenders face up to a year in jail and fines up to $1,875. These strong penalties tell drivers to take school bus warning lights seriously.
Yet with Kadyn's Law, Iowa joins a surprisingly small list of states that have strengthened penalties for passing stopped school buses. In each state, it took the death of a young child at the hands of a reckless driver to spur change.
It shouldn't be that way. That's why I believe Iowa's new law should serve as a model for a federal baseline for school bus safety laws.
So, I recently launched an effort to make Kadyn's Law the new national standard. Under a federal Kadyn's Law, if a state doesn't pass a law that matches the standards first set forth in Iowa this year, that state will face a 10 percent cut in federal highway funding.
Without some sort of motivation, the status quo is never going to change. Consider this: In North Dakota, the fine for passing a stopped school bus is $50 -- less than some parking tickets!
Across the nation, drivers illegally pass stopped school buses 13 million times each year; in Iowa, 138,600 times every year. If we cut that number, we'll reduce the number of children killed and injured by reckless drivers. The best way to do that is to eliminate a weak, ineffective patchwork of state laws and replace it with a strong national standard that provides a real incentive for drivers to follow the law.