There is no question that when a school bus stop arm and flashing lights are activated, there’s a likelihood that children are present and may be crossing the street to get on or off the bus. Since that is the case, then passing a school bus at that time should be considered endangering the life and safety of a child.
According to the 2019 National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services survey, 131,000 school bus drivers reported over 95,000 stop arm violations in a single day, which could equal at least 17 million nationwide over a 180-day school year. Nearly 40 percent fewer school bus drivers participated last year in the most recent survey. According to NASDPTS, “Adjusting for 100 percent of the school bus drivers in the U.S., we would have seen just over 232,000 illegal passings in both 2019 and 2022. Throughout a 180-day school year, these sample results point to more than 41.8 million.”
You can’t deny the numbers, and these numbers should shock lawmakers into seeking a solution to protect children in every community from dangerous and distracted drivers. Schools don’t have the resources, time or technology to be the sole protectors of students at bus stops, so it’s very important that the laws are written correctly, if we’re going to make a change. Ultimately, the safety of each community’s children is the responsibility of the whole community including each driver, each law enforcement officer and each lawmaker. This is plaguing the nation in a true epidemic, and to create change we have to change what we are doing in all aspects.
What’s been done in the past isn’t working because none of it is changing the behavior of distracted, dangerous drivers. Schools have tried installing a literal arm on the front of the bus to make motorists more aware of children present, but they still ran right into it. School bus drivers have resorted to remembering and handwriting the vehicle’s license plate number, but that draws the bus driver’s attention away from the children, endangering them even more.
If there were enough police officers to have one at every bus stop, that would certainly help but there aren’t. They do not have the resources to be able to follow every bus. It would be impossible for law enforcement to cover every bus or bus stop, but cameras can.In communities where stop arm cameras are legal, stop arm cameras capture video and snapshots of vehicles passing the school bus when the stop arm and flashing lights are activated. Law enforcement can use this evidence in court to prosecute the violator and enforce the laws that are already in place. Sadly, some times the only thing that will get a dangerous driver’s attention and change their behavior is a substantial fine for breaking the stop arm law. And when drivers become more aware of their surroundings at school bus stops, they can become more aware of their surroundings everywhere, thereby improving street safety in the entire community.
Even better than simple stop-arm cameras purchased by the school district is an automated system that manages the entire process, where the law allows, completely free to the school district. We recently introduced Child Safety Program, the automated stop arm violation system designed to change driver behavior to make kids safer, from violation detection to citation at no cost to the school district, and it is totally funded by violation fines. In the Child Safety Program’s initial 20 day test phase, the system recorded and verified 407 stop-arm violations on only 20 buses.
When a Child Safety Program camera system is in place on a school bus, the system is actually recording the video and automatically detecting the violation with the latest AI technology. The event is verified as a violation by an authorized reviewer, and a citation is created and sent to the registered owner. This will serve two purposes: changing drivers’ behavior and increasing awareness of this problem in the communities we are able to serve.
It’s not necessarily the video or the cameras that are changing driver behavior, but studies have shown that 98 percent of motorists who receive a citation most likely will never do it again. That’s the proof that behavior has changed, and changing behavior is what keeps our kids safe.
Editor’s Note: As reprinted in the May 2023 issue of School Transportation News.
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