The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services released the results of its Fourth Annual National Stop-Arm Violation Count today, and while numbers appear to be down, survey coauthors confirmed they are actually "relatively consistent."
This year more than 97,000 school bus drivers from 29 states took part in the one-day survey, representing about 20 percent of bus drivers nationwide. They reported that 75,966 vehicles illegally passed their stopped buses on a single day this past spring. Last year 108,436 bus drivers from the same number of states participated and counted 85,279 vehicles that flew by stopped school buses.
While fewer bus drivers reported results this year, NASDPTS Executive Director Charlie Hood said the number of participants has fluctuated since the survey's inception in 2011. He presented preliminary results in a workshop at the recent STN EXPO in Reno, Nevada.
Hood noted that, from year to year, states promote the illegal passing survey differently to their school bus drivers, and some states may opt out of the survey, which changes the numbers. In Florida, where Hood recently retired from the post of state director, fewer counties reported in 2014 than in previous years, which also affects results.
"Participation was naturally a little bit higher the first year because everybody was excited and it was new and people wanted to participate," he said, adding that interest among drivers may have waned because the "unfortunately consistent" data could be a cause for discouragement. "I'm sure there's some sentiment towards: How is this helping us reduce the illegal passing? That's a hard connection to make. But if we don't have the data, we can't begin to impress upon the states or feds or anyone else that it remains a problem. Obviously NASDPTS believes the data is important and we want to continue documenting it to the extent that we can."
The good news is that school districts have used the survey results as an instrument for identifying specific locations where they need more law enforcement, he explained, and the results are often cited in state initiatives that permit the use of stop-arm cameras for enforcement and/or increase penalties.
In 2014, three more states — Illinois, South Carolina and Wyoming — implemented legislation allowing authorities to use data from a school bus video system to issue a ticket for stop arm violations, bringing the total to 26 states, in addition to some provinces in Canada. In Wyoming, however, many municipalities require more than photo evidence for ticketing violators, so a bill is in the works to make this the standard statewide, according to David Koselowski, state director of pupil transportation. NASDPTS offers a compendium of state laws on its website for reference.
"It's hard for some of us to fathom why it would take that – the possibility of getting a ticket or a fine or having your license taken away – to get people's attention on something like this. But enforcement is important, and photo enforcement is one of those tools," Hood continued.
He pointed out that Iowa's stop-arm violation count numbers proved helpful when Rep. Bruce Braley drafted his federal bill based on Kadyn's Law, named after a 7-year-old girl who was fatally struck by a motorist while attempting to board a school bus in May 2011. In Iowa, motorists who fail to slow for a bus with flashing lights or to halt when the stop-arm is extended will be slapped with fines up to $675 and potentially 30 days in jail, with penalties increasing after further violations.
Derek Graham, the survey's coauthor and state director of pupil transportation in North Carolina, agrees the NASDPTS survey results present a valuable snapshot for legislators considering initiatives to aid in enforcing school bus stop laws.
"The survey and its results are there for the sole purpose of increasing awareness. Having information in place on the website is extremely valuable as we seek to get the word out through local media across the country," Graham said. "I believe that these surveys provided some important evidence that NHTSA needed to work on the issue, as shown in their recently announced project to evaluate the implementation of stop arm camera systems."
Read more on the NHTSA project.