AUGUSTA, Maine — State lawmakers have been considering multiple school bus safety bills over the last couple months, and are calling for revisions to those that address stop-arm violations with different tactics.
Three separate bills had proposed various penalties for illegally passing a stopped school bus:
• LD 656 called for six demerit points to be issued to a violator’s driver's license, and included a fine of $2,000 and a term of imprisonment of 90 days.
• LD 166 had raised the penalty for illegal passing from a $250 minimum fine to a $500 minimum fine for the first offense, and increased the driver's license suspension from 30 days to 60 days for a second offense.
• LD 344 included the same penalties and fines as LD 166, as well as a fine of $1,000 and a suspension of the violator’s driver's license for 30 days for a second offense occurring within five years of the first offense.
Meanwhile, a fourth bill, LD 19, would require all public school buses to be equipped with crossing arms. The crossing arms would be required to extend 8 to 10 feet in front of the bus. Rep. Jay McCreight spoke with Maine Association for Pupil Transportation’s (MAPT’s) president, Dottie Muchmore, about the cost of the crossing arms, Muchmore told School Bus Fleet in an email. Muchmore, who is also the transportation director for Maine School Administrative District 6, estimated that the cost would be approximately $500 to add them to a new bus, and $1,000 to add them to an older bus, according to WGME.
Adam Mayo, transportation director for Maine School Administrative District 75 and president elect of the MAPT, told SBF that he testified in February to the Committee on Transportation on the three stop-arm running penalty-related bills.
To address the magnitude of the problem, Mayo included in his testimony some results from the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services’ 2018 survey of illegal passing of school buses. There were over 83,000 illegal passes observed on a single day in 38 states and in the District of Columbia, he told the committee. He added that that was an increase from just over 78,000 in 2017 and 74,000 in 2016.
Mayo also informed the committee that 225 Maine school bus drivers participated in that survey, and reported a total of 88 illegal passing incidents in one day.
Although stop-arm running is a growing problem that needs to be brought to light, he added, education needs to be paired with fees and penalties for any law to be effective. MAPT urges public education efforts similar to the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety’s public service announcements on drunk driving, speeding, and seat belt enforcement, as well as reaching out to students in driver’s education classes.
However, he noted that in addition to efforts made by the state, school transportation directors need to educate bus drivers, parents, and students to ensure they are all following and enforcing proper crossing and stop procedures.
“This is a problem that we are hoping to bring to light and work on stricter penalties as far as the state goes,” Mayo said. “But we also understand that there’s a lot of other work that needs to be done as far as enforcement, education, and accountability.”
MAPT also wants to see the law changed to mandate stop-arm cameras on all school buses, and the ability to use recordings from those cameras in court, he added.
Since the three bills that focused on illegal passing were trying to achieve the same end but with different tactics, they were recently moved into a work group, Mayo said. The group, which Mayo is participating in, is currently gathering input and developing ideas for one new bill to deliver to the committee at a later date.