RENO, Nev. — Student transporters heard a surprising presentation Sunday at the 19th annual STN EXPO that offered yet another promising solution to the problem of stop-arm violations that literally is right in front of our eyes.
"Relocating and reformatting school bus safety markings are a proactive way to improve driver compliance and potentially reduce illegal passing and passenger injury," summed up Shmuel Bollen on his 45-minute general session presentation that drew gasps from the considerable audience in attendance.
Bollen is a senior user experience designer for ACI Worldwide. His presentation, "The Most Recognizable Vehicle in North America: Cognitive Research on School Bus Markings," offered up information design as the key to getting and retaining the ever-elusive attention of motorists around school buses by tapping into our visual acuity to "hear" loud colors and familiar word constructs that are easy to process.
Bollen told the group that humans share the same biological and cognitive devices for processing information. He looked at the safety information on the back of school buses, and after considering how we process information to get the desired behavior, he re-examined it in an attempt to eliminate what he termed "the grim statistic" of 13 children, on average, who are killed each year by stop-arm violators.
"The challenge is guiding your attention to the right signal at the right time," Bollen said.
Using a PowerPoint presentation, Bollen demonstrated to the audience how, using current school bus markings, the human eye is not drawn to the message on the back of the school bus that motorists should see. He further demonstrated that his limited research indicated that by adjusting the lighting and placing the critical message closer to the brightest lights, the human eye is drawn to the message faster than before.
He then presented several examples of how humans tend to process easy information faster than information that is presented otherwise. He said using all capital letters causes biological fatigue and robs the words of their familiar shapes. "All caps cause us to skim over the words," Bollen said. "It’s easier to read word shapes."
He quipped that one of the few times he’s ever seen the word "unlawful" is on the back of a school bus.
Bollen said drivers can attend to only one task at a time. “They are driving, so they are already attending to a task,” he said. “We want to get them the message as easily and as quickly as possible.”
School Bus Training Company President Denny Coughlin was one of many attendees impressed by Bollen's presentation.
"This industry needs to take responsibility for the drive-by problem we have," said Coughlin, who earlier in the day opened the conference with an inspiring presentation "The Secret to Happiness from the Luckiest Man Alive." "We can’t blame the police and judges. We must approach the problem of making the bus more effectively visible to the driving population.
"It’s a different approach that’s far more scientific than we’ve had in the past, but we need to look at improving our system with this research."
Representatives from NASDPTS and the National Congress on School Transportation expressed special interest in what the industry might be able to do in terms of influencing additional research at the federal level. Initial discussions were also held during an on-site meeting of the School Bus Manufacturers Technical Council.