Passing School Buses Endangers Children!
The headlines are common and tragic. Getting to and from school is dangerous for America’s children. Everyday people driving to work, or even taking their own kids to school, that are illegally passing stopped school buses, who are to blame for this deadly trend.
Tales of kids who were killed or injured by drivers ‘running the red lights’ are in the news with alarming frequency. With the prevalence of video cameras on buses, parent’s cell phone videos, and security cameras, we see first-hand the blatant disregard these motorists have for children’s lives.
In some states, such as Indiana, a police officer must be in the right place at the right time to witness the car passing a school bus which has stopped to load or unload children. Last October, near Fort Wayne, three siblings were killed, and a fourth child seriously injured, when a pickup truck ran the reds and hit them as they attempted to board the bus to elementary school. Their deaths earned national news coverage, and Good Morning America covered the story.
Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb has sign a new School Bus Safety bill that was spawned in the wake of this incident. The bill specifies even stiffer penalties, and will provide a way for school districts to have financial aid to equip school buses with stop-arm cameras to capture license plate numbers. The school bus your child rides is passed an average of once every six days.
The school bus your child rides is passed an average of once every six days.
The data is frightening. According to the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS), on just a single day during the 2017-18 school year, 83,944 vehicles passed school buses illegally.
In every state, it’s illegal to pass a stopped school bus that is loading or unloading children. Unlawful passing is a criminal charge, not a traffic infraction. The penalties vary from state to state. First, however, these drivers must be ticketed.
Bright yellow school buses, the iconic symbol if America’s educational system, are yellow for a reason – to be seen from a distance. Manufactured with children’s safety in mind, school buses are equipped with heavy beams down the sides, fuel tank cages, high-backed padded seats, and seat belts. Not to mention the vast array of flashing lights on the front, back, and extending from stop arms to warn motorists that the bus will be stopping for passengers.
A school bus is the safest vehicle on the road. As long as the students are inside.
A SCHOOL BUS DRIVER’S PERSPECTIVE
Every school bus driver, no matter the length of their employment in pupil transportation, has a plethora of ‘running my reds’ stories. They’ve witnessed every conceivable scenario. Drivers passing from the front, from behind the bus, and even barreling down the shoulder to get past.
Parents will also drive past the entire line up of buses with flashing red lights and stop arms out at a school, as if that is okay. It is not. The school driveway may be just as dangerous as the highway if children dart out from between parked buses. Red lights and stop signs mean stop. Every time. Every day.
“It’s practically a daily occurrence, with some roads and times of day worse than others. We’ve all grabbed kids by the backpack to keep them from going down the steps because a car, or even a bicyclist, has decided to blow by on the shoulder,” says a school bus driver who wished to remain anonymous. “I’ve had cars stop for my reds, and after my kids have gotten off the bus and I’ve signaled them that it is safe to cross, the stopped car decided to go by, actually weaving around the kids while I laid on the horn and yelled out the window at them. I got the license number, and could identify the driver, so I turned the plate in. Because it happened in New York, and the young women was from Virginia, the police told me that they couldn’t do anything.”
SCHOOLS COMBAT THE PROBLEM
In a survey conducted by School Transportation News in October 2018, 83% of school bus drivers indicated that motorists that pass them illegally are their number one concern. Kids are kids, and they aren’t always paying attention, such as this near miss.
Part of a school bus driver’s job is training their bus kids on how to ride the bus safely, and cross the road. They should wait until receiving the bus driver’s signal to cross, and stay at least ten feet from the front of the bus so that the bus driver can always see them. This is not new.
What is new is transportation departments across the country have changed routes so that children no longer have to cross a main road. It’s more miles, and little Johnny on one side of the road may get picked up at a vastly different time than little Susie who lives just across from him, but that’s a small price to pay to keep them alive.
There is more technology than ever before to capture images of offending drivers speeding through the red lights on school buses, yet the problem is so prevalent that even more technology is being developed – predictive stop-arms. This system will be able to audibly warn students if a car is approaching when the bus has stopped for them.
Part of the answer may lie with the various police agencies throughout the country. In New York, Operation Safe Stop Education and Enforcement Day was Thursday, May 2, 2019. Police were out in full force issuing tickets to stop arm violators, and will release a final figure to the media when the data is finalized. But as our anonymous driver pointed out, why couldn’t the police in New York issue a ticket to a Virginia resident? That incident happened several years ago, but if that driver had been speeding, she would have been issued a ticket.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
How do we stop these drivers from illegally passing stopped school buses?
Many communities organize public awareness events and publish notices in newspapers, especially during National School Bus Safety Week, which is the third week of October.
Get involved with your local and state governments to help change the policies and procedures that will make it easier for the justice system to respond to license plate numbers that are captured by school bus drivers or others who witness these events. Let’s not depend on a police officer being in the area, we need a wider net.
The National Conference of State Legislators has focused on two main issues of late. One is helping schools get seat belts on all buses, and the other is enabling schools to have buses equipped with cameras to catch vehicles illegally passing a stopped school bus.
Get the PTA or the school board fired up about the risks of illegal passing and partner with local law enforcement to get the police out and actively working on enforcing the law.
Find out if your school plans on addressing the problem with technology. Capturing the incident on camera provides irrefutable proof of the violation.
When offenders are prosecuted, what is the punishment in your area? Should there be stiffer fines? Mandatory jail time, even for first offenders? Please feel free to share your opinion or plan to help your community by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org
By Chris Bunnell & Debbie Curtis