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August 05, 2010  |   Comments (2)   |   Post a comment

Don't dismiss this idea

by Thomas McMahon - Also by this author


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."

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Do you have bus attendants that sit on the bus while the driver is out of the bus. Do you think an a bus attendant/technician would be a good idea. So the driver could stay in his seat to use loading/un-loading lights while technician uses stop sign to cross students. Keeping students safe on and off the bus. I would hate to see driver leave the bus and have a student fight break out on the bus. Shutting down the bus turns off your public warning that the bus is unloading students. Yes I am aware of the cost for an extra body on the bus, but save a life wheres the comparison in liability.

Anonymous    |    Nov 14, 2010 08:36 AM

I'm not sure if shutting down the bus is practical due to the idea of the wear on the engine where we are instructed to give it a 2 to 3 minute cool down before shutting it off. How important is it for the care of the bus? There are some conflicts in this area with my company since we have to shut down the bus at the schools before loading and unloading students where there is no time to wait for a cool down of the engine. But when we return to the bus yard we must wait the few minutes before shutting it down.

Vicki    |    Nov 13, 2010 03:57 PM

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