Recently, as I drove down a street near my home in North Carolina, I saw a yellow school bus pulled halfway into the oncoming lane with its stop arm extended and lights flashing – defensively using the bulk of the vehicle to discourage motorists from illegal passing.
Of course, the driver also risked a head-on collision with a distracted motorist.
Not long before that, I was contacted by a reader who works on a special-needs school bus, whose driver actually *encouraged* motorists behind their vehicle to pass – even with the stop-arm extended and red lights flashing.
That’s another invitation to disaster. On top of the fundamental risks involved, this well-intentioned “I just want to keep things moving” gesture actively encourages motorists to break the law that professionals throughout the student transportation industry keep urging people to follow.
I discussed that incident in an episode of The Route podcast called “Making Waves.” Since then, I’ve seen a few more near tragedies with illegal passing getting coverage across the media spectrum. Two in particular caught my eye:
- A quick-acting Tecumseh Local Schools bus driver in Ohio just barely managed to yank back a student disembarking down the steps when someone in a car tried passing on the right.
- Two children trying to cross the street to board a bus in Statesville, N.C., narrowly avoided being run down by a motorist passing on the left (with a double-line indicating no passing, just to amplify the egregiousness).
So here I am, harping on the topic again, because obviously our industry needs to do a better job of getting the word out. It cannot be – it should not be – that motorists aren’t going to do the right thing until more children die because the grown ups can’t wait to get where they want to be.
Maybe it would help if I reiterate some points made by Teena Mitchell, a South Carolina student transportation official, president-elect of the National Association for Pupil Transportation, and a member of the School Bus Fleet editorial advisory board:
Bus drivers should:
- Make sure to report every violation you witness, whether or not you’ve got complete information. It’s critical that all data get counted.
- Check traffic before extending the stop arm. Don’t put it out when you know vehicles are too close to your vehicle to safely stop.
- Train students to watch for *your* signal rather than simply relying on the stop sign and flashing lights.
Transportation managers should:
- Report all violations to law enforcement.
- Work with law enforcement to develop public awareness plans and plans for how and when to contact offenders for a discussion with law enforcement (when lacking information to prosecute) and to prosecute offenders when identity information is available.
- Show bus drivers data that proves their reports are important and are investigated, such as stop-arm violation reports, law enforcement citations, letters to vehicle owners, and selective traffic enforcement in high-violation areas.
Every illegal pass is a roll of the dice with the lives of our children at stake. It’s critical to make it clear to motorists that fewer seconds on the way to work aren’t worth the gamble.
Reach out to SBF Executive Editor Wes Platt at firstname.lastname@example.org.