CHEYENNE – Efforts to improve safety at school crosswalks throughout the state have continued throughout the Wyoming Legislature’s general session.
Rep. Bill Henderson, R-Cheyenne, brought forward a bill that would require vehicles to stop for pedestrians in school zone crosswalks and implement video surveillance, making it the second piece of legislation addressing pedestrian safety. He said he believes it is a good place to start.
Henderson explained to the House Transportation, Highways and Military Committee Affairs Committee on Tuesday that House Bill 68 was inspired by the solution for drivers passing stopped school buses. A few years ago, the Legislature allowed buses to record drivers who passed, and the images were used to issue fines to the vehicle owners.
The same model would be used in partnership with the Wyoming Department of Transportation to survey school crosswalk zones on days that school is in session between the hours of 7 a.m. and 4 p.m., and has been supported by WYDOT Director Luke Reiner.
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While the House Transportation Committee didn’t have enough time at its meeting to vote Tuesday, committee members did hear initial testimony in support of House Bill 68.
ForMak founder Janelle Jones was one of the people given a chance to speak before the meeting ended, and she shared her own personal experience.
Jones lost her 13-year-old son, Makaili “Mak” Evans, in November of 2021 after he was struck and killed by a driver while using the crosswalk near McCormick Junior High School. The loss greatly impacted the community, and led to the start of her nonprofit organization that advocates for pedestrian safety in school zones.
The Cheyenne mother asked lawmakers to support the bill for their children, their communities and for her son.
She has since advocated and testified before local governing bodies and state legislative committees. Jones recommended video surveillance at school crosswalk zones to the Joint Judiciary Committee during the interim, and came before the House Transportation Committee again Tuesday to support Henderson’s bill. She said it is a win-win, and addresses some of the concerns brought to her attention.
“I am a volunteer, and I am dedicated to several hours a week as a crossing guard. It has given me a new perspective on the issues we face, not only as a parent, but as a community member,” she said. “Speeding and distracted driving are the main issues that I am seeing.”
She said automated speed enforcement cameras in school zones would correct driver behavior or reroute drivers to a different route. Jones has also noticed young speed offenders, and she said tickets would create the opportunity for parents to educate their young drivers and be notified they’re driving carelessly.
She said that the revenue generated from the citations received would help communities upgrade crosswalks, and that the safe route to school program plans to pay for the equipment, as well as the administration fee to process or maintain it, along with mail citations.
“This bill would be another way to have drivers on the honor system, or they would be cited,” she testified. “This is how we correct our behavior and prevent another death. We need to have a zero-tolerance policy in our schools for speeding and distracted driving.”
Committee members thanked Jones for taking the time to speak on the issue, and offered condolences for her loss. The House Transportation Committee didn’t introduce on a motion on the bill, but will likely vote at its next meeting Thursday.
However, action was taken on the issue in the Senate. Lawmakers voted on third reading to pass the other legislation directly addressing school crosswalks.
Senate File 35 was sponsored by the Joint Judiciary Committee and would allocate $10 million from the general fund to the Wyoming Department of Transportation. WYDOT would take applications from communities for funds to improve safety in school zones, whether that be for pedestrian crosswalks, underpasses or tunnels.
SF 35 will cross over to the House after a 20-10-1 vote.