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Put the Brakes on School Bus Tragedies

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Kadyn Halverson, age 7, saw her school bus slow to a stop in front of her family's home near Northwood, Iowa, one morning last May. She crossed the street to climb aboard. Like my own three kids and many other Iowa children, she took the flashing red lights of the bus 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, 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.

Just recently, Iowa Governor 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.

The obvious next step is to make Kadyn's Law the new national standard. Under a federal version of Kadyn's Law I've introduced in Congress, if a state doesn't pass a law that matches the standards set forth in Iowa this year, that state will face a 10 percent cut in federal highway funding.

Without this 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.