In the fight against stop-arm running, public awareness is a key line of attack.
Some motorists apparently still need to be clued in on when to stop for school buses. Of course, the stop arm and flashing lights provide a clear message when students are loading and unloading. But if drivers know in advance that they should be looking out for those stopped buses, and if they’ve been educated on the danger that illegal passing poses for students, they should be more prepared and more convinced of the need to stop.
As we recently reported, school bus operations in 28 states took part in the second national stop-arm running count, which found 88,025 violations in a day. As Mike Simmons, president of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS), noted when the results were released, the count “captured only a fraction of the violations that bus drivers and other professionals in school transportation and law enforcement know are occurring.” But the number is still so high that it can be a powerful tool in public awareness.
The national or state-level stop-arm running data can be used in public service announcements and can be submitted to media outlets and legislators. In Maryland and Iowa, data from last year’s survey aided in passing legislation to crack down on stop-arm running.
The survey statistics also provide solid proof, rather than anecdotal evidence, of how big of a problem illegal school bus passing is.
NASDPTS will likely decide at its conference this fall whether to conduct the national stop-arm running count again next year. If the count does continue and your state hasn’t yet participated, I encourage you to join the effort. The more states that contribute their numbers, the more robust the results will be.
Another recent development on the public awareness front came out of Georgia, where a campaign to curb stop-arm running had a high-profile advocate on board: the state’s first lady, Sandra Deal.
The issue has added urgency in Georgia. The state had two school bus loading/unloading fatalities in the 2010-11 school year and five in 2009-10, according to the Kansas State Department of Education’s national report (which has not yet been compiled for the 2011-12 school year). In three of those accidents, the students were struck by a vehicle illegally passing their bus.
In its one-day count of stop-arm running earlier this year, Georgia reported 7,349 vehicles illegally passing school buses.
Deal toured the state for a few days in August, visiting schools to promote the “Stop Means Stop” campaign, which aims to raise awareness about the need to stop for school buses.
The Georgia Department of Education and the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety partnered for the program, and law enforcement agencies also joined the effort.
For example, deputies in Effingham County rode school buses during a week in August. If a deputy saw a violation, he or she would radio ahead to have another deputy stop the vehicle and issue a citation.
Getting a citation is an unpleasant wake-up call, but now they know. And, yes, knowing is half the battle.