In October 2018, we reported that six students died nationwide during the 2017-2018 school year while attempting to load or unload from their school bus. That’s according to the “National School Bus Loading & Unloading Survey,” which was conducted by the Kansas State Department of Education. For the current school year, the industry suffered nearly that many child deaths during a one-week span last fall.
As of April 12, 2019, there had been 14 student deaths at school bus stops, or while crossing the street to or from. Sadly, that’s the most since 17 fatalities were recorded in 2008. And there is still at least one month remaining in this school year. Meanwhile, School Transportation News research on local news stories dating back to last August have found at least 49 student injuries nationwide during loading or unloading.
This is an issue that has especially hit home for districts in Indiana, where three students—two 6-year-old twin boys and their 9-year-old stepsister—were struck and killed by a woman who failed to notice the school bus flashing red lights and stop arm during the pre- dawn hours of Oct. 30. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania has also suffered three student fatalities, and Florida leads the nation with 17 school bus stop injuries, according to our research. The months of October and November 2018, alone, saw seven total student deaths and 15 injuries at or near bus stops.
As is the case with most of the world’s ills, there is no one solution. But something has to be done. HR 2218, introduced last month in the U.S. House of Representatives, takes a comprehensive approach toward identifying possible answers. It would require the U.S. Department of Transportation to compile all state laws on illegal passing and issues that impact the ability to enforce them.
It would evaluate how states currently document, collect and report illegal passing occurrences, and it would also create and implement a national public service campaign, in consultation with the school bus industry, that seeks to educate the public on school bus stop laws. Federal best practices on avoiding illegal passes would be yet another result.
An increasing number of school bus safety demonstrations have sprung up nationwide to showcase a variety of strategies aimed at halting motorists at school bus stops and making the loading and unloading zone safer for students. (We also can’t forget that far too many children die or are injured each year by their own bus driver.)
One of these events occurred at Rochester Schools Corporation in Indiana last month, where Rep. Jackie Walorski announced that she and Rep. Julia Brownley of California were filing HR 2218. Next month’s STN EXPO Indianapolis offers attendees another opportunity to see how technology is literally aiming a lens on not only the illegal passing phenomena, but on complete school bus stop safety.
The “Safe Fleet/Seon Illegal Passing & Bus Perimeter Safety Demonstration” will be presented the afternoon of June 9. It will show attendees how video cameras are being used to capture motorists who are in violation of overtaking school buses with their federally-mandated stop arms and red lights activated. It will also opine that cameras, stop arms and crossing gates are not enough to stop children from being injured or worse as they cross the street to and from buses.
The demonstration immediately follows a panel discussion on creating safer school bus stops, which will take into account the increasing problem of illegal passers. The demo will also delve into selecting safer stop locations, increased training for bus drivers and students to promote safer behavior while boarding or egressing the bus, community outreach and more.
Earlier that same day, a University of Iowa researcher will present findings on how children, especially the younger ones, cross streets, and the implications the behavior should have on school bus routers and bus stop planners.
If you can make it to Indianapolis, I look forward to meeting you and discussing how the industry can best reverse the trend of increased student deaths and injuries at bus stops. If you are unable to attend, email me your thoughts.