WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. — Mark O’Brien’s idea for a new stop-arm design came from an unsettling personal experience: He accidentally passed a stopped school bus illegally.
O’Brien, a tool and die maker by trade, is a native of Ireland who has lived in New York for the past 30 years.
About seven years ago, O’Brien had stopped for a cup of coffee at a 7-Eleven in Yonkers, New York. As he prepared to pull out of the parking lot, his car was perpendicular to a stopped school bus across the street. He said he saw nothing indicating that he shouldn’t proceed, so he turned left out of the parking lot.
“I went to make my left, and [the school bus driver] blew his horn at me,” O’Brien recalled. “I thought, ‘What’s wrong with this guy?’”
Then he looked in his rearview mirror and saw what he said he couldn't see from the side of the bus: The stop arm was out. As he reflected on his unintentional illegal passing, O’Brien realized the dangerous potential of the situation.
“Had a child walked in front of the bus, something terrible may have happened,” he said.
O’Brien, who has two school-age sons and an older daughter, set out to devise a solution to the issue that he experienced. He found that because some school bus stops are opposite driveways or parking lot exits, many other motorists face the same confusion that he did. Accordingly, he explored ways to display the “stop” message to drivers when they are perpendicular to the bus.
“I’ve done a lot of product design,” he said. “I’m a problem solver. I’m of the belief that everything can be improved upon.” The concept that O’Brien came up with is a three-part stop arm. When activated, one sign would swing out 180 degrees, one would come out the standard 90 degrees, and one would stay in its place. The first and third signs would then be facing out to the side, while the second sign would be facing the front and back of the bus like current stop arms.
O’Brien said that the idea is to provide more visibility for drivers and “another level of protection” for students outside the bus. He noted that his stop-arm concept also includes four additional lights — two apiece on the two extra signs.
“It’s going to light up like a Christmas tree,” he said.
O’Brien said that he has patented the design, and he’s looking to license it to a manufacturer “so I can get it out as soon as possible.” He estimates that the price of the proposed product would be about 30% more than that of a standard stop arm.
The goal, O’Brien added, is to increase safety around school buses by preventing drivers from making the same mistake he did.
“There is a danger of a side approach. If you can approach a bus from the side, you need to be warned, ‘Hey, you need to stop,’” he said. “The last thing you need around a school bus is a confused driver.”
To watch a video that illustrates O'Brien's stop-arm concept and includes his contact information, go here.