Traffic light has bus drivers seeing red
September 17, 2008
ASPEN ” When school bus driver Von Weissenstein was stuck at a traffic signal that would not turn green, she figured the coast was clear enough for her to run a red light. Apparently it was not that clear.
A passenger in a bus behind the one Von Weissenstein was driving filed a citizen’s complaint, and Aspen police cited the driver for failure to obey a traffic signal device.
Weissenstein, 28, pleaded no contest to the charge in Aspen Municipal Court on Wednesday, but said the traffic light, located at Harmony Place and Highway 82, has consistently not turned green on the mornings she drives to school. She even said her supervisor, Aspen School District transportation director Fred Brooks, gave her permission to run the light when it gets stuck on red.
Judge Brooke Peterson issued Weissenstein a six-month deferred judgment, meaning if she doesn’t get a traffic infraction in the next half year the ticket, which carries a $50 fine and four-point penalty, will be waived. The judge did not, however, let Brooks and Weissenstein, who was also in court, avoid a scolding of sorts.
“I am much more concerned that we’re dealing with kids on a bus. Everybody agrees that they are our community’s most precious commodity around here so we can’t put them in danger,” Peterson said.
Weissenstein testified she had a busload of students and was running late for school on the morning of Aug. 28, the day she was cited. She was waiting for the light to turn green so she could take a left off of Harmony Place, which is the road to the Burlingame housing project, onto Highway 82. When the signal remained red, Weissenstein, realizing she would be tardy for school again, decided to run it.
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Peterson discouraged Weissenstein from doing that again. He said if that light or any other signals pose a problem in the future, Weissenstein and other school bus drivers should call the Aspen Police Department, which the judge also instructed to contact the Colorado Department of Transportation, which manages the traffic light.
“This light has been a chronic problem for us,” Brooks told the judge. “It’s not an isolated problem, it’s been happening for years.”
Which is why, Brooks explained, he has instructed drivers to run the light if it stuck on red and there is no incoming traffic.
“I have told them if it is clear to proceed,” he said.
Officer Joe Holman, who acted on the citizen complaint and cited Weissenstein, said: “Maybe he shouldn’t be telling them that.”
Peterson also said Brooks is handing out bad advice.
“No one is above the regulations,” he said. “You cannot tell employees that they can violate the law consciously… If there’s a problem the first people who should be called is the police department and (drivers should) not go ahead and circumvent it.”
Assistant City Attorney Jim True said in court that according to statute, if a signal is malfunctioning motorists can treat it as a stop sign. But in Weissenstein’s case, some two seconds after she ran the red light it turned green, according to court testimony.