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Let’s Save Kids’ Lives Together

Last month, we celebrated National School Bus Safety Week with the theme “Be Safe—Know the Danger Zone.” But did it have any impact on public awareness? Did your school district or company do anything to educate parents, students, teachers, motorists, school bus operators, and school administrators to learn more about school bus safety?

The goal of any outreach campaign is to build awareness, but without a large-scale plan to create real change it’s like tossing pebbles into the ocean. I personally saw a few social media posts and creative videos, but I saw nothing on local or national media outlets that highlighted school bus safety.

Guess what? Tragedy keeps happening. Last month, media did report on a 9-year-old student in Louisiana who was hit and severely injured by an illegal passing vehicle, while she was attempting to exit the school bus on her way home. There was another tragic story about a 10-year old student in Florida being hit and killed in September. And that’s only two examples from this school year alone.

As an industry we preach safety constantly, but the lack of an extensive budget can hinder the efforts to invest in technology and training, that can help save lives and prevent tragic injuries.

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I mentioned in a previous column that we can simply only control what is in our purview. Drivers that continue to illegally pass your school buses aren’t going stop doing it. One prime example of this is when our own Taylor Hannon, the magazine’s associate editor, was riding a school bus full of Cypress-Fairbanks ISD students in Houston. The bus driven by Dr. Kayne Smith, our 2021 Transportation Director of the Year, was illegally passed by another vehicle while on route. “I was absolutely shocked it happened,” said Hannon, who never witnessed such an incident before.

I accept that we can’t stop it from happening, but I know that it can be mitigated with innovative technology and consistent training.

Last month, Ben Englander, CEO at Rosco Vision Systems, gave me a demo of the latest safety technology his company had to offer at the STN EXPO Indianapolis trade show. The tech displayed was the I-Max LED cross view mirror, which provides more illumination in low-light conditions, helping support the 360-HD view of the bus. This helps cover all the school bus driver’s visual blind spots displayed on the Mor-Vision driver mirror monitor. As I walked the aisle of exhibitors, I also saw illuminated stop-arms, LEDs and lighted signs on display to help improve overall visibility of the school bus to passing motorists. Camera vendors also displayed the latest in illegal passing mitigation technology.

Related: Gallery: STN EXPO Indy Trade Show 2021
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Related: New York Gov. Hochul Signs Legislation that Aims to Discourage Illegal Passing

One piece of technology that takes a proactive approach to safety is the predictive stop arm. What’s that, you ask? It provides a visual and audible alert to the school driver and students of potential oncoming danger from passing motorists. “We are proactively notifying thousands of students who enter the danger zone every day during the school year,” said Chris Akiayama, VP of sales from Safe Fleet, which manufactures the technology.

A great bellwether for illuminating the national illegal passing issue is the one-day industry study by NASDPTS. But that has been canceled again due to circumstance surrounding the pandemic. Now what? How do we get the word out to the public about this major safety issue? Here is an idea … Do your own count of illegal passing incidents and send the results to STN. We’d be happy to t share this data. I’ll scream the message from the mountain tops, if it saves a child’s life.

Our industry always preaches that we are the safest, but I challenge you to consider how to become safer. Consider new technology and training programs to impact overall student and driver safety. Hopefully in the future we will truly see a reduction in illegal passing incidents and an increase in lives being saved as a result.

It has always been a goal for our industry to experience a school year free of student transportation fatalities, but that looks to be unachievable. School bus safety in the danger zone is a persistent problem our industry hasn’t been able to fully solve, and it seems to be getting worse. So, I ask you to remain steadfast amid these challenging times. Let’s all be part of the solution and make our students lives safer every day. Please share those illegal passing stats with us so we can make a difference together.

Editor’s Note: As reprinted in the November 2021 issue of School Transportation News.

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