WASHINGTON, D.C. — A meeting here last week centered on safety risks outside of school buses, including the dangers of stop-arm running.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) event on Thursday continued a series of high-profile discussions on pupil transportation safety. The agency’s previous two meetings focused on seat belts on school buses.
Illegal passing of school buses, also known as stop-arm running, was a recurring topic during the Dec. 1 meeting. For its part, NHTSA has commissioned a study to gauge the effectiveness of camera enforcement of stop-arm violations.
Dr. Bryan Katz of ToXcel, the firm conducting the project for NHTSA, said that there are four observation sites for the study, in Virginia, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Mississippi. In each location, the goal will be to compare the rate of illegal passing before and after stop-arm cameras were installed on school buses.
Also at the meeting, the executive directors of the three national school bus associations — NAPT, NASDPTS, and NSTA — presented a coordinated message in which they pointed to stop-arm running as the top issue in school bus rider safety.
“The single biggest risk is cars that illegally pass school buses,” NAPT's Mike Martin said. “We believe many parents aren’t even aware that it’s happening. They need to know the facts so they can be effective local advocates.”
Martin, Charlie Hood of NASDPTS, and Ronna Weber of NSTA called on NHTSA to launch a national campaign targeting stop-arm running, which could tie in with the agency’s existing “Learn the Facts” campaign that promotes the benefits of school bus transportation.
The idea seemed to resonate with NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind.
“I’m with you — illegal passing needs a national program. We do that really well,” Rosekind said, referencing NHTSA’s “Click It or Ticket” seat belt campaign as an example of the agency’s effectiveness in raising public awareness on safety issues.
While Rosekind will leave NHTSA at the end of President Obama’s term in January, the administrator said that he would work on getting the ball rolling on a stop-arm campaign effort as well as on a meeting in which school bus OEMs could connect with other vehicle manufacturers and tech companies.
“What the yellow school bus has now is ancient,” Rosekind said on the technology topic. “School buses should be on the drawing board with everyone else. That’s an area we can help with.”
Also during NHTSA’s meeting last week, representatives from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission explained the efforts that are underway to implement a requirement for exterior object-detecting sensors on new school buses in New Jersey. Other topics covered included crash trends, student pedestrian safety, and seat belts on school buses.
Derek Graham, state pupil transportation director for North Carolina, discussed a project that is underway in his state to test out lap-shoulder belts on school buses in 11 school districts. Graham said that early results have shown that elementary students are more compliant with buckling up than high school students, and drivers have reported improved discipline on the belt-equipped buses.
To view a recording of the NHTSA meeting or to access presentation files, go here.