When considering the problem of illegal passing of school buses, this proverb comes to mind: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Put more precisely for the topic, it’s better to keep a stop-arm violation from happening than to punish a violator after the fact.
Of course, substantial fines and other penalties are needed to deter repeat offenders and others who would consider willfully passing a school bus that is loading or unloading students. Technology like stop-arm cameras can help in that regard.
But what about the many motorists who don’t know they’re supposed to stop? When I moved to the U.S. four years ago, I was able to drive for a period of time with my license from the U.K., where we didn’t have the same type of yellow school bus system. Immigrants from most other countries would be in the same situation. But even many people who were raised in the States are apparently unclear about the requirements on stopping for school buses, or they could use a reminder.
That point has been reinforced by numerous studies. For example, a national stop-arm survey coordinated by NASDPTS tallied 74,421 violations in one day last year. About 20% of the nation’s school bus drivers participated, so we could estimate that the 74,421 violations represented about 20% of the nation’s stop-arm violations on that day. That would put the total around 372,000 violations.
Meanwhile, multiple surveys by the New York Association for Pupil Transportation have estimated that more than 40,000 violations occurred statewide in one day.
Of the hundreds of thousands of offenders across the country, some knew the law and chose to break it when they came to a school bus with its red lights flashing and stop arm extended. Others passed a stopped school bus because they were distracted, their visibility was obscured, or they didn’t understand the law.
While we don’t know how many offenders fell into each of those categories, my sense is that there is still a great need to educate motorists about when and why they need to stop for school buses.
To that end, a national public awareness campaign would be an effective and efficient approach. The three national school bus associations — NAPT, NASDPTS, and NSTA — made that point in a meeting held by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in December.
Now, a variety of free stop-arm safety infographics, flyers, and other resources are available at schoolbusfacts.com, developed by the American School Bus Council through a cooperative agreement with NHTSA.
On the subject of promoting public awareness, Harry Davis of High Prairie (Alberta) School Division shared a compelling story at School Bus eXchange in April. After a fully loaded logging truck failed to stop for one of his buses, Davis took the opportunity to give a safety presentation — which included video footage of the incident — to the lumber mill’s contracted truck drivers.
Efforts like that at the local level, combined with a national push, will go a long way in making sure that all motorists know what to do when they come to a stopped school bus.
James Blue was the general manager of METRO Magazine.View Bio