Transportation via the iconic yellow school bus is one of the safest forms of transportation available. Yet, while every life is important and we as an industry put safety first every day, accidents continue to happen.
In 2017, four passengers were killed inside the school bus and seven were killed outside the bus. While we focus efforts to increase safety on the road, we must also focus our efforts to increase the safety of our passengers as they board and depart the school bus each day. To increase the safety of our passengers outside the bus, our biggest focus should be to educate, with the goal of reducing or eliminating illegal passing of stopped school buses.
We as an industry see it very simply. A bus is stopped and all moving vehicles around it should also stop until all children are safely away from the bus and on their way. But it’s just not that simple. Drivers are more distracted than ever before. Drivers are in a hurry. Drivers think they don’t have to stop. Drivers claim they didn’t see the bus until it was too late to stop. Those drivers are putting children’s lives in jeopardy every single day, either knowingly or — equally as concerning — unknowingly.
The National Association of State Directors for Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) conducts an annual survey of illegal passing incidents of stopped school buses each year. Their 2019 survey found that over 95,000 drivers ran school bus stop arms in one day during the 2018-19 school year. More than 27% of U.S. school bus drivers in 39 states participated in the survey, and 130,963 of them reported the passing incidents.
These sample results point to more than 17 million violations among America’s motoring public throughout a 180-day school year, according to NASDPTS. The organization also noted that because not all school bus drivers participated in the survey, the number of incidents is probably greater. As an industry and as a society, this is unacceptable.
Every state has some type of law requiring motorists to stop when school buses are stopped. There are variances, however, in when and where drivers must stop. Many states also have penalties for violating these laws, although that is a deterrent, and deterrents look to address the situation after the fact. We need to focus on preventing the passing before it even happens.
Further compounding driver distraction are a host of different circumstances that prove puzzling for them, such as divided highways and intersections, not to mention the added impairment of weather issues or darkness. What seems simple — stop when a school bus is stopped — is proving challenging for motorists, and our nation’s children could pay the price.
There are several steps that you as a school transportation professional can take to increase awareness in those around you, such as:
• Review the resources available at schoolbusfacts.com and promote their placement in high-visibility areas in the schools you serve.
• Be sure your school bus drivers and students are trained to follow uniform procedures for safety at the bus stop and while getting on and off the bus.
• Speak to PTA/PTO groups and community associations to help educate the community.
• Partner with local law enforcement and encourage a focused day or campaign (think public service announcement) to increase awareness.
• Promote safe practices and your state’s laws on social media.