School bus safety license plates in all 50 states is the goal of a new project spearheaded by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS).
The initiative was inspired by a new license plate in Ohio that aims to help prevent illegal passing of school buses. The specialty plate, which was the result of a years-long effort by the Ohio Association for Pupil Transportation (OAPT), displays an illustration of a school bus with its red lights activated, along with the words “Flashing Red — Stop Ahead.”
Jeff Vrabel, past president of OAPT, gave a presentation about Ohio’s license plate project to state pupil transportation directors at the NASDPTS conference in November. Among those in the room was Max Christensen, past president of NASDPTS and state director for Iowa, who was moved to take action.
“I decided it looked like a great idea and one that I wanted to bring back to Iowa and try to implement,” Christensen told SBF.
As it turned out, Iowa’s process for proposing specialty license plates had been streamlined in 2016, with the passage of a bill that allows nonprofit organizations to request approval of their own decal that can be affixed to a special decal license plate. For the nonprofit requirement, Christensen turned to Chris Darling, executive director of the Iowa Pupil Transportation Association (IPTA). Vrabel offered up OAPT’s license plate logo, which Darling customized for Iowa with an outline of the state.
IPTA submitted an application to the Iowa Department of Transportation and got approval for the school bus safety license plate decal, which can now be placed on the state’s special decal plates — or on car bumpers, windows, or elsewhere.
“Since they are decals, it also opens up a world of other possibilities,” Christensen said. “People don't necessarily have to purchase the special plate to share the message.”
In Iowa, decal plates are free for new registrations or $5 to switch from an existing plate. There’s also a $5 annual renewal fee.
IPTA will sell the new “Flashing Red — Stop Ahead” school bus safety decals “for a very minimal cost,” raising funds for schools and other organizations in the process, Christensen said. Iowa Prison Industries is manufacturing the decals for 60 cents apiece. Not content to keep the school bus safety license plate idea in Ohio and Iowa, Vrabel and Christensen pitched the concept to NASDPTS President Diana Hollander and the rest of the board. The association committed to helping the other 48 states with similar license plate projects, including offering the “Flashing Red — Stop Ahead” logo from Ohio.
Christensen said that with the consistently high numbers of violations counted in NASDPTS’ annual national stop-arm survey, the license plate concept is an opportunity to promote a consistent message to motorists across the country.
“It’s a pretty simple message — something that everybody should be able to understand,” he said. “We have the potential to hopefully make a difference in the number of pass-bys.”
Some other states have already launched their own license plate efforts. Idaho created a school bus safety license plate program in 2004. And as SBF reported recently, the Florida Association for Pupil Transportation (FAPT) is working on a new specialty plate to promote safe student transportation.
“Our goal is to design a plate that will raise awareness among motorists that when a school bus makes a pupil stop, they must follow the law and stop as well,” FAPT President Arby Creach told SBF in a recent interview.