A serious concern in school transportation is the stop-arm violation. An astounding number of motorists breeze down the road, seemingly unaware of the big, yellow bus that is sitting right in front of them, sometimes with tragic results. Many school bus drivers are illegally passed multiple times a day. We at School Bus Fleet see video evidence of it constantly.
We also report stories about fines being increased and laws toughened. Recently, British Columbia more than doubled its fines for illegal bus passing. In South Carolina, a bill that would allow citations to be mailed to vehicle owners even if the driver who committed the violation can’t be identified is advancing through the state Legislature. Meanwhile, in New Jersey and New York, assembly members have introduced legislation that would let school districts deploy cameras on school bus stop arms to capture video of drivers who illegally pass stopped school buses.
If numbers from the New York Association for Pupil Transportation (NYAPT) monthly estimates on illegal school bus passing statewide are any indication, there is more need for these measures than ever. On May 18, the association estimated that nearly 37,000 stop-arm violations occurred on that day. That is the highest number of estimated violations from NYAPT since October 2015, when the association began conducting the monthly survey.
Deterrents such as fines are essential, according to many readers who responded to a recent query about the subject on Facebook and LinkedIn, some saying that motorists know the law but break it anyway.
However, many other readers noted that more education is needed, and that many motorists are not aware of the potentially horrifying consequences. Several wrote that, whether through public service announcements (PSAs) or more time spent on school bus safety in the classroom and on driver’s license tests, the public needs their attention directed to this safety hazard. (At SBF, we often receive and share powerful videos created, sometimes as PSAs, that show the grave dangers of stop-arm running.)
One response from a reader on LinkedIn summed it up well, saying that in addition to passing stop-arm camera bills, there should be a chapter dedicated to school bus safety in state driver’s license manuals, and a year-round “media blitz,” with television and radio commercials and billboards. She pointed out that funding is needed for all these efforts.
Surprisingly, getting that funding can be a significant obstacle. Peter Mannella, the executive director for NYAPT, explained how the association is in the difficult position of competing for state and federal funds with other vital campaigns, such as those for distracted and impaired driving, speeding, and “Click It or Ticket,” which promotes seat belt use. In this case, school buses’ solid reputation for safety, ironically, almost works against it; with so few fatalities, funds are often directed elsewhere.
Whether through public service announcements or more time spent on school bus safety in the classroom and on driver’s license tests, the public needs their attention directed to this safety hazard.
However, Mannella added that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s highway safety grant programs and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Traffic Safety Committee have provided funding for NYAPT’s educational campaigns. The association has held contests for kids to design bumper stickers, supplied restaurants and hotel chains with placemats, and printed bookmarks with the message. But when it comes to sustained, mass messaging, the capital to do that effectively has been tough to find, he noted.
Luckily, though, the association’s annual Operation Safe Stop Day, which has local and state law enforcement officers monitoring traffic around school buses and on the alert for motorists who illegally pass school buses in problem areas, has been particularly effective for generating media buzz, Mannella said.
And those numbers from the previously mentioned monthly surveys help when they are reported in the local news.
“I’ll go to the grocery store and people say, ‘I saw you on TV last night. That many people really pass buses?’ Then, you have a whole conversation,” Mannella said.
Beyond that conversation, however, the challenge is capitalizing on the public’s momentary flash of attention to get some real traction with that “media blitz.”
There is currently a bill proposed in the New York State Legislature that, if passed, would divert a portion of fines collected from illegal passing to create a public education campaign, Mannella said.
It appears that lawmakers need more education on the consequences of motorists passing stopped school buses. We all need to do our part to share the powerful videos, stories, and statistics with the public and lawmakers to get more funding for this critical issue.