A joint safety study conducted by researchers at Iowa State University and the University of Iowa found that stop-arm cameras can be effective in deterring motorists from illegally passing school buses, if there exists supporting processes that result in violations.
The researchers also recommended the installation of a second stop arm at the rear of the school bus as a "low-cost" traffic solution to illegal passing incidents. According to a survey conducted by nearly 30 states last May for the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS), nearly 100,000 school bus drivers reported that 88,025 vehicles passed their school buses on a single day. In addition, NASDPTS estimates that motorists illegall pass school buses 13 million times per year, nationwide. An average of 16 children per year are killed by drivers who illegally pass stopped school buses, according to NHTSA.
"Ensuring the safety of Iowa's school children is a top priority for this department and for all of Iowa schools and districts," commented Max Christensen, NASDPTS president and state director of student transportation at the Iowa Department of Education. "Taking actions at the local level, such as evaluating the feasibility of home-side loading/unloading of students, and working with area law enforcement agencies, is essential."
The Iowa study was required by the passage of Kadyn's Law in March of last year to determine of cameras mounted on buses reduce stop-arm violations. The legislation was introduced in response to the May 2011 death of 7-year-old Kadyn Halverson (below) as she was crossing the street from a babysitter's house to meet the school bus. A motorist failed to stop for the school bus flashing reds and stop arm, struck Halvorson and dragged her body some 200 feet. The driver sped off and was later arrested.
Kadyn's Law also encouraged similar federal legislation in the House introduced by Rep. Bruce Braley of Iowa. "Kadyn's Act" was unanimously passed last June to designate at least $10 million of NHTSA funds to target illegal passing violations. The amendment was considered budget-neutral because it redirects NHTSA operations funding to school bus traffic law enforcement.
Additionally, the study encouraged school districts to only drop off and pick up school bus riders on the side of the road on which their home is located. It also recommended that illustrations depicting when motorists should stop for school buses be included in the state's driver training curriculum.
"This report states that parents should be encouraged to have their children ride the bus to and from school because buses are one of the safest forms of transportation available," said Steve Gent, director of the Iowa Department of Transportation's Office of Traffic and Safety. "Yet, the safety of our children is still a real concern, primarily due to vehicles illegally passing stopped school."
Twenty Iowa school districts reported they currently use as few as one to two stop-arm cameras up to 56 cameras for every route bus to deter motorists from illegall passing violations, but most said it was "too early to tell" how effective the technology has been, though the report said that most still considered the cameras to be effective in verifying violations have occurred. However, in light of the NASDPTS state survey on illegal passing counts, the report said that "the addition of stop-arm cameras on a small fraction of Iowa school buses could swamp the school district and law enforcement agency abilities to prosecute these dangerous violations."
The researchers concluded that stop-arm cameras do aid law enforment, as the technology is an improvement over the "laborious task" of school bus drivers individually noting when illegal passing incidents occur. Still, when cameras are used, school districts must isolate images showing the illegal passer and provide this to law enforcement, which must then verify a violation occurred to secure a conviction before a ticket can be issued. The report noted that North Carolina increased stop-arm violation penalties and fines on motorists for more than a decade, but little progress was made until the state enacted a law that allowed for automation and third-party involvement to process the video, verify the law was broken and issue tickets.
Several companies, including American Traffic Solutions and Redflex, that implemented programs to use cameras to catch and ticket red-light violators, currently offer stop-arm camera solutions to school districts. The turnkey technology ranges from the video itself to verifying a violation took place, identifying the owner of the vehicle to processing citations with law enforcement.
In Iowa, Kadyn's Law imposes a mandatory minimum fine of $250 for the first offense. But the report said that records show that 65 percent of fines imposed between Aug. 15 and Oct. 31, 2012, were less than the minimum.
"As with any new law, enhanced awareness within the judicial system of the changes in the Iowa Code resulting from Kadyn's Law should result in an increased alignment of convictions and sentencing to the present Iowa Code provisions," the report stated.