After a pandemic-induced hiatus, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) put its illegal-passing survey back in the field during the 2021-22 school year.
Bus drivers in 34 participating states reported that, on a single day, more than 51,000 vehicles passed stopped school buses.
“These numbers, when adjusted for 100% of the school bus drivers across the country, show that, unfortunately, illegal passings of stopped school buses are at an epidemic level,” said NASDPTS President Pat McManamon. “Too often, the safety of our nation’s children is put into question simply because motorists are either not paying attention or are in a hurry. This is simply unacceptable. Motorists must understand the rules of the road and must follow them every single day.”
Illegal passing has been a chronic concern for the student transportation industry for years. That’s despite the increased awareness among state and federal policymakers and their efforts to add countermeasures, from capturing photo evidence to use for issuing citations to boosting penalties for violations.
School Bus Fleet turned to a few members of its editorial advisory board to offer their insights into attacking the problem.
Do More Via Social Media
Michael Dallessandro thinks most states and counties have done a good job promoting concerns about illegal passing via public service announcements.
“However, many young drivers do not get their news from traditional television networks or media sources,” he says. “Instead, most get their information from streaming or online sources, so there needs to be a targeted effort to do safe-passing PSAs via social media and streaming.”
It’s also important for local school districts and transportation contractors to participate in grassroots efforts to raise awareness.
“One such notable effort was done by the Baldwinsville volunteer fire company on school opening day,” Dallessandro says. “The local fire department stood at street corners and school locations holding signs reminding citizens that school is open.”
Explore Education and Engineering
The results of the latest NASDPTS survey “are alarming, as usual, but not unexpected,” Derek Graham says.
In 2011, he worked with Florida’s then-state director to draft NASDPTS’s first nationwide stop-arm violation census.
“When you’ve been following data as long as I have, you see that we can’t completely change motorist behavior,” he says. “There is not enough money for a ‘Got Milk?’ campaign of public education, and things have gotten continually complicated with more traffic and congestion on the road, compounded by an epidemic of distracted driving.”
He says that the best use of the latest survey is to “document that the problem continues to exist and requires continued efforts on a number of fronts.”
Three possible strategies:
- Educate students and school bus drivers. Students should be taught to act as responsible pedestrians. Also, Graham says, it’s “absolutely critical” to adopt a standardized hand signal. “With unfortunate exceptions,” he says, “students will not be struck by passing motorists if they are not in the roadway when the violation occurs.”
- Engineering improvements that focus on making the school bus and stop arm as conspicuous as possible.
- Routing adjustments to minimize instances of students crossing the street. “Despite the shocking 2 to 4% of the time that an illegal passing is on the right side of the bus, children are most in danger when crossing the street to board or after exiting the bus,” Graham says.
Deter Offenders with Video of Violations
Efforts to use video to legally penalize motorists that run school bus arms are gaining momentum in many states, Teena Mitchell says, but “I do think we could do a better job of advertising that video can be used in legal action against stop-arm offenders.”
Public awareness of the problem could improve with that extra attention.
“Working with our law enforcement by reporting all violations with as much information as possible and getting officers in our areas of habitual offenses has made a difference in awareness in South Carolina,” she says.
A national campaign that graphically portrays the sometimes fatal outcomes of passing a stopped school bus might amplify awareness and save lives, Mitchell says.
“Several years ago, we initiated a PSA during School Bus Safety Week that ran on our local stations,” she says. “A sister emotionally told the story of her brother who was killed by a person that ran a school bus arm in North Carolina. And while this acknowledgement and visual of what can be the next few minutes of your life if you drive distracted or disregard safety because you are in a hurry can be a wake-up call to some, we still have motorists that are addicted to distractions and cannot think beyond their own needs. We also have to think about students that rely on the stop sign as permission to enter the street with the assumption that the motorist will stop.”
So, she says, it’s up to school districts to step up and address via training. It’s vital to train drivers, students, and transportation managers.
Her suggestions include:
- Train them to remain on the sidewalk until traffic has totally stopped and the school bus driver waves them to cross.
- Report every violation, regardless of the amount of information you’ve got, as this is data that must be counted.
- Check traffic before putting out the stop arm. Don’t deploy the stop arm when you know vehicles are too close to your bus to stop.
- Train students to watch for your signal.
- Check traffic again and wait for traffic to stop before waving your students to cross.
- Report all violations to law enforcement.
- Work with authorities to develop a plan not only for public awareness, but also a plan to contact the offender for a conversation with police (if not enough information is available to prosecute) or to prosecute offenders when the information to identify is available.
- Show data to bus drivers that shows their reports are important and are being investigated.