Despite the ongoing efforts of the pupil transportation community, law enforcement and state legislators, motorists continue to illegally pass stopped school buses at alarming rates.
Over the years, we've devoted many pages to the topic of stop-arm running, discussing strategies to cut down on this dangerous scourge. Legislation to increase penalties, using cameras on the outside of the bus, and setting up sting operations with police officers are among the efforts that can help catch, punish and deter bus passers. And these efforts should continue.
But the problem is never going to go away completely. There will always be those motorists who don't realize that they need to stop or who think they can get around the bus without incident.
So what else can be done to protect students from stop-arm runners while they cross the street? There's one approach that, despite its long record of effectiveness, is only required in one state in the country.
As you'll read in our feature on ways to improve safety, California mandates that school bus drivers escort children who need to cross the street to or from the bus. The driver shuts down the bus and walks into the road with a hand-held stop sign to help the student cross safely.
State pupil transportation director John Green says that California has not had a documented death of a student during the driver escort procedure, and the requirement was put in place in the 1950s.
According to the Kansas State Department of Education's most recent national survey, seven children in the U.S. were killed by a passing vehicle while loading or unloading from their school buses in the 2008-09 school year. Ten children were struck and killed by their own bus.
Green has long been following the loading/unloading statistics and has been urging other states to give the driver escort practice a shot. He gained some headway at the National Congress on School Transportation in May when it was included as an approved alternative method in the appendix of the industry's specifications manual.
But Green says that he typically meets resistance when he shares the idea with industry people from other states. Common concerns include the amount of time the process might add to routes, whether chaos would break out when the driver leaves the bus, and whether it would work in winter weather.
"I think we have an excellent answer for each and every one" of the concerns, Green says. For example, he says that the escort process can actually save time — particularly with middle schoolers, who are known to lollygag when left to their own devices.
And any kind of transportation environment experienced in other states most likely exists in some form in the expansive state of California.
"We have major metropolitan areas with gang violence. We have deserts and rural areas. We have freezing weather in the Sierras. And [the escort method] seems to work in every single situation," Green says.
But it's not about wanting everyone to just do what California does, Green insists.
"The bottom line is the statistics," he says. "If the driver gets out of that seat, they'll protect the kids better than any piece of technology."