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June 18, 2012  |   Comments (11)   |   Post a comment

Bus stop near-miss makes for powerful lesson

By Thomas McMahon


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Footage of an illegal passer nearly striking a West Virginia boy is being used for public education and driver training.

Footage of an illegal passer nearly striking a West Virginia boy is being used for public education and driver training.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The footage is harrowing.

A school bus stops and activates its safety equipment, but two oncoming cars quickly — and illegally — pass by. As the bus driver honks the horn, a boy who has gotten off of the bus begins to walk in front.

As he crosses the street, the middle school student looks back up at the bus and waves his arms playfully, unaware of the danger headed his way.

A white car is coming toward the bus with no apparent intention of stopping. Just as the boy walks across the double yellow lines on the road, he looks up to see the white car passing right in front of him — a mere step away from tragedy.

The incident, which took place in Kanawha County, W.Va., in 2008, was captured by a video recorder facing forward through the windshield of the bus (to watch the video, go here).

While the identities of the drivers who passed the bus couldn't be determined, an investigation found that the cars had come from the nearby high school. The principal issued memos on the matter, explaining that anyone found to be a culprit in the incident would be prosecuted.

"There were no citations issued, but some remediation was done," state pupil transportation director Ben Shew told SBF.

After getting permission from the boy's mother — who was standing on her front porch watching when the near-miss took place — and from Kanawha County Schools, Shew's office at the West Virginia Department of Education has distributed copies of the incident footage for driver training and to educate the public about the dangers of stop-arm running.

"A lot of states have seen it and used it for training," Shew said. "We get requests for it quite often, and we use it a lot here."

West Virginia has taken on a variety of other initiatives that are helping to crack down on the illegal passing of school buses — which happens roughly 600 times a day in the state, based on the results of a one-day survey in 2011.

Earlier this year, a stop-arm task force was assembled from various agencies and organizations in West Virginia, including the Department of Transportation, police, magistrates, prosecutors and the media.

The task force came up with a plan to combat the problem of illegal passing. A key element of the plan is stepping up enforcement.

In late April and early May, state patrollers rode along on and followed school buses to catch stop-arm runners in the act. The press and their cameras also joined the operation. "We had about 24 ride-alongs, and about six violators were ticketed," Shew said. "And they got their pictures on TV as well."

But it wasn't just the public whose eyes were opened about the school bus safety issue. "We heard over and over from the troopers on the buses that they had no idea that the school bus got such little respect," Shew said.

Another initiative from the task force is an advertising campaign. A poster was developed to display as a pump topper (an ad posted above fuel pumps) across the state.

"When you see red lights flash, be smart, be patient and stop," the poster declares below a photo of smiling students.

The West Virginia Governor's Highway Safety Program provided funding for the campaign.

"It's part of our education and communication plan to get the word out," Shew said of the posters. "We already have orders for over 3,000 of them."

Since the near-miss incident, the use of school bus exterior cameras has increased in West Virginia. Kanawha County has installed a system with two exterior cameras to capture more evidence on stop-arm scofflaws.

Shew estimated that about 10% of the state's school systems are using the exterior cameras. Also, he noted that the state has been putting together a bid for a three-camera system that would be installed on new school buses.

A key goal in opting for these systems is to be able to identify the drivers of illegally passing cars, which state law requires for a citation to be issued. But the license number is often enough to get the ball rolling.

"If we can't identify the driver but have the license plate," Shew explains, "the police have ways of finding out who the driver was on that particular day."


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Read more about: law enforcement, public image, stop arm running/illegal passing, video surveillance, West Virginia


Preston, was finally able to watch the video once again. And to me, no red lights are visible in his crossover mirrors. My red lights, when activated, are very visible in my CO mirrors, even regardless of weather conditions. If his red lights were not working, the Transportation Director of that school system should definitely review this video and make a determination.

Mike Sirianno    |    Aug 21, 2012 07:14 AM

Preston, I am willing to review the video again to make sure my statement of the reds not flashing is correct. However, it appears, for some reason, that the video is no longer available. I am a school bus driver, and to have one car drive thru my reds is very bad. But threes cars??? The reds could not have been working, very unlikely that that many cars would disregard flashing red lights. Sorry, JMHO.

Mike Sirianno    |    Aug 21, 2012 07:08 AM

There are too many distractions for an everyday driver today kids, music, cell phones etc... (there not a bus driver). We bus operators have to watch everything and over 60 students. The newer buses are much taller, i feel it should be mandatory that all busses have extra warning lights at eye level. They should be as bright as what's on the new state troopers units. It may not stop the running of stop arms but it may distract the everyday car driver from his/her distraction of a bus. At lease you could be seen.

Cam    |    Jun 25, 2012 06:39 AM

It you watch the video closely you will see that the system shows both the warning lights and the stop lights and stop arm were activated. The drive followed the correct protocol as outlined in state policy.

Ben    |    Jun 22, 2012 06:48 AM

Mike, I must disagree with your claim that the red lights were not flashing. The quality of the video is far too low to see the red lights in the mirrors. Other evidence in the video proves the lights were in fact on. First, the footage indicates the driver activated the ambers on approach shown by the flashing WRN text, this changed to STOP when the bus door was opened. Second, the cross arm came out when the door opened, this would not happen if the warning lights were off.

Preston    |    Jun 21, 2012 08:01 PM

I'm reposting my comment because my previous one has been removed or deleted. As far as the cars passing by a stopped school bus; if you noticed, three cars passed this bus as it was stopped. Why did they pass? BECAUSE THE BUS DRIVER DID NOT HAVE HIS RED LIGHTS FLASHING !!! If you notice in the front crossover mirrors his reds were not flashing, if they were, they would be visible in these mirrors. I wonder when this driver realized that he, not the cars passing by, was actually at fault. And it was him, not the other drivers, who put the life of this student in jeopardy. It is very easy to forget to turn on your master switch, obviously he forgot too. So don't blame the people passing by in their cars, they had no reason to stop when there were no red lights flashing making it mandatory for them to do so.

Mike    |    Jun 21, 2012 08:48 AM

I like the idea of the pump topper advertisements. In GTA area Ontario, Canada we have almost all our fuels pumped at self-serve outlets, so it would be a way to educate motorists. The oil companies should be happy to cooperate. I have driven a large school bus for 6 years and have witnessed many drivers running through the schooler reds and the blinking stop sign. I would say at least one-third know exactly what they are doing, while they drive through. Threats of $2,000 fines and serious license demerit points mean little. Maybe the auto insurance companies could take a bigger role and threaten to cancel people when ample proof there to say they really did run the school bus signals.

BeeBopEh    |    Jun 21, 2012 08:39 AM

This is one picture which is worth a million words! Motorists just do not realize until it is too late. I would love to get this on a cd to use for our drivers & school districts.

Bob Wolf    |    Jun 20, 2012 11:31 AM

two things come into play...why is this student not looking out for his own safety? also why is California the only state to escort students(k-8 and in more cases k-12)across roadways?

guy woodward    |    Jun 19, 2012 04:09 PM

Another good reason to ESCORT STUDENTS across the street like we do here in Ca. SAFETY #1.

Buslady    |    Jun 19, 2012 09:08 AM

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Steve Gardner    |    Jun 18, 2012 07:19 PM

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