New survey results reveal a slight increase in the rates of motorists observed on one day illegally passing stopped school buses, according to the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS). More than 15 million violations are estimated to occur nationwide over an entire school year.
NASDPTS President Diana Hollander said Tuesday that the goal of the survey is to educate the motoring public, and “open their eyes” to the safety risks of violating school bus stopping laws, especially as the new school year begins.
“Any driver who passes a stopped school bus while students are getting on or off is gambling with children’s lives,” she said. “Violating your state’s law can result in significant fines or even more serious penalties.”
The 38 states and D.C. responding to this year’s survey were the most in the eight years that NASDPTS has collected and published national results. NASDPTS tallied 83,944 total illegal passing incidents, defined as at least one motorist passing a school bus with its federally mandated stop arm deployed, and red lights flashing when picking up or dropping off students, from one-day state counts held this spring. NASDPTS said 108,623 school bus drivers participated in the voluntary project.
NASDPTS extrapolated that the sample results indicated that over 15 million violations could occur nationwide over a 180-day school year. A recent School Transportation News survey of readers indicated that illegal passing remains the biggest safety concern of school bus drivers while loading or unloading students.
“We know that students are far safer in school buses, but cars passing school buses is one of the most troubling problems we face, because it is so common, and can lead to injury or death,” added Hollander. She is also the pupil transportation program supervisor for the Nevada Department of Education. “This survey provides a shocking snapshot of the violations that bus drivers and traffic officers know all too well are occurring each and every day throughout the United States,” she revealed.
NASDPTS reported 78,239 illegal passes last year observed by 106,976 school bus drivers in 30 states and D.C., and a high of 88,025 in 2012, when 99,930 school bus drivers in 28 states responded.
There are approximately 500,000 certified and active school bus drivers nationwide.
The 2018 study showed a continuing trend of about half of all incidents occurring during afternoon routes. Additionally, about 59 percent of illegal passes are attributed to oncoming traffic.
Most state laws require traffic in all directions to stop for school buses, unless a physical median or grass strip is present. However, Georgia removed that stipulation last month after enacting an updated school bus passing law. The state now allows oncoming traffic to continue moving when the median is a turn lane.
Other NASDPTS survey results indicate that nearly 98 percent of motorists pass the school bus on the left side (97.86 percent). But the two percent that pass on the right side present even more risk, as that’s the side where students board and disembark the bus.
North Carolina had the most school bus drivers participate in this year’s survey at 12,751, or nearly 56 percent of all certified and active drivers in the state.
Editor’s Note: This article updates an original version that indicated a slight decrease in observed illegal passing incidents, when in fact the figure slightly increased from 2017 to 2018. STN regrets any confusion caused.