Our editors are getting reports throughout the country that traffic laws are being so routinely violated that they are undermining school bus safety. This situation must change, and we all need to do more to make that happen. In this issue, Senior Editor Dale MacDiarmid reports that traffic laws requiring motorists to stop when a school bus' red lights are flashing and its stop arm is extended are virtually ignored in some parts of the country (see "Unsafe Passage: How to Curtail Illegal Pass-Bys"). In fact, in California, which began requiring school buses to flash their warning lights at every stop on Jan. 1, motorists can be seen passing school buses on any given day of the work week.
To date, there have been no serious statewide print or broadcast advertising campaigns to educate motorists about the new law. Sure, there have been articles published in local newspapers announcing the change, but we've seen few follow-ups to those initial stories. A California colleague of mine on this magazine found out about the new law at a PTA meeting only recently - six months after the start of the school year.
E-mail brings disturbing news
Executive Editor Steve Hirano recently solicited feedback on the new law's effects in an e-mail to members of the California Association of School Transportation Officials (CASTO). Some of the answers he received were pretty disturbing. "The general public is still not stopping for school buses, either during loading or unloading," said one CASTO member. "Most people still do not understand the law." Indeed. Another CASTO member reports that compliance with the law only runs at about 50 percent. In short, such ignorance of safety rules in the nation's largest state means that it's only a matter of time before real tragedies occur. Is the problem widespread? Our editors say it is a problem outside California as well. In one well-publicized study in Florida, more than 10,000 illegal passes of stopped school buses were recorded in a single day.
Here's what we can do
If compliance is strong in your area, you should be saluted. Yet we all know that traffic laws related to school buses can always be better enforced, regardless of compliance or accident rates. As Dale points out in his article, one of the most effective things that transportation managers can do is get the word out. Encourage local newspaper reporters to investigate the problem and the potential dangers. Invite them to go on some runs aboard your buses. Do the same thing with police. Local law enforcement agencies typically are happy to provide support to school districts. They often will provide extra patrols along school bus routes, which discourages motorists from ignoring the flashing red lights. And keep getting the word out. Just because you may have already passed out flyers at PTA meetings or to teachers to send home with their students, don't stop there. Do it again. Frequency is the key to any successful advertising or public relations campaign.
For our part, the editors at SCHOOL BUS FLEET are working with the editors at another Bobit publication, Police, to spread the word about the dangers of illegal passes to thousands of law enforcement agencies. We're also distributing a press release and Dale's article to print and broadcast outlets around the country. I know this sounds corny, but if we can prevent one child from being injured or killed by a passing motorist, we will consider all of our efforts to have been worthwhile.