With tens of thousands of motorists illegally passing school buses every day across the nation, a new product aims to make sure that drivers get the message to “STOP.”
In North Carolina, Guilford County Schools is testing the Bus Crossing Guard, a mechanical arm with an extra stop sign that extends 6 feet from the side of the bus when it stops to load or unload students.
The product, which has lights that flash alternately with the lights on the main stop arm, intentionally sticks out into the next lane of traffic. The goal is to help get drivers’ attention and to impose a physical barrier to deter them from passing the bus.
Ten of the Bus Crossing Guard units were installed on Guilford County Schools buses and put into service on April 13. Director of Transportation Jeff Harris said that the initial concept was to test the product for two weeks, but he asked to continue testing them for the rest of the school year. He said that the results have been favorable so far.
“Bus drivers are reporting that motorists are staying further away from the bus when the sign is deployed,” Harris said.
Harris is working with BL Solutions, the Lewisville, North Carolina-based developer of Bus Crossing Guard, on a comparison of stop-arm violations on the 10 buses before and after installation. He is also compiling his school bus drivers’ comments on the product.
Scott Geyer, vice president at BL Solutions, said that one of the findings so far has been that some motorists seem primarily concerned with avoiding damage to their vehicles. While many drivers are stopping farther away from the bus, a few have slowly ventured past.
“In a couple of incidents, people slowed down, drove into the ditch [next to the road] and went around,” Geyer said. “But at least they slowed down.”
If a driver does happen to crash into the stop-arm extension, it is designed to break away from the bus, although it may still damage the passing vehicle.
Geyer said that state authorities reviewed the legality of the Bus Crossing Guard, and they determined that a motorist hitting it would be equivalent to hitting the school bus itself — in addition to committing an illegal passing offense.
According to the North Carolina attorney general’s office, “There is no increased risk of liability for the use of an extension to the stop bar.”
Geyer said that his father, Robert Geyer, started thinking about new safety measures for school buses in 1999 when state legislator Dale Folwell’s 7-year-old son Dalton was fatally struck by a car passing his school bus.
“My father was torn up about it,” Geyer said. “He’s an inventive type of guy, and he started dreaming up stuff. About three years ago, when he retired from his day job, he really started working harder on this.”
Geyer said that in addition to the legal review, BL Solutions has made multiple changes to Bus Crossing Guard — the alternately flashing lights, for example — based on requests from North Carolina state pupil transportation director Derek Graham and his staff. Also, Geyer noted that the product is engineered to be compatible with any type of school bus, old or new.
As the pilot program continues at Guilford County Schools, the stop-arm extension may soon be tested on more school buses in North Carolina and elsewhere.
“We’re going to pursue it in other states as well,” Geyer said.
For more information, go to www.buscrossingguard.com.