How School Officials Can Bolster Safety at School Bus Stops
Illegal school bus passing is a widespread issue that affects virtually every community in the nation. According to a 2018 study by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS), bus drivers in 38 states and the District of Columbia reported almost 84,000 illegal school bus passes in a single day. That equates to more than 15 million violations in one school year. In the United States, it is illegal to pass a school bus when it is stopped, its warning lights are flashing and the stop arm is extended. If a police officer witnesses illegal school bus passing, he or she would pull the violating vehicle over and issue a citation. While all members of the community can help make school bus routes safer, school officials and law enforcement in particular play an important role in improving school bus safety and reducing illegal passing. They have the power to start and influence widespread initiatives that improve students’ safety as they travel to and from class each day. Community decisionmakers and parents can incorporate the following tactics into a broader safety plan to promote safe behavior around school buses: Use Multiple Communication Channels to Educate the Public Make it easy for residents to access and understand the law and its consequences – both financial and safety-related – via website content, social media posts, media interviews and more. Some districts send letters to parents that provide school bus safety tips. Others partner with Drivers Services, the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, the NASDPTS, and Children’s Healthcare groups and safety villages to spread the word about when to stop for a school bus. Some of these organizations may offer resources to help school officials augment their efforts. The key message, whatever the communication channel, is that there is no need to rush. The few seconds drivers “save” by illegally passing a stopped bus isn’t worth potentially harming a student. To keep the dangers of illegal bus passing top of mind, ramp up communications efforts before each school year begins, in addition to regular reminders throughout the school year. Engage Parents Via Relevant Organizations, Workshops Work with Parent/Teacher Associations, Mom’s and Dad’s clubs, and other parent organizations to educate parents about school bus safety. These organizations may be receptive to a short workshop on how to create a safe bus stop for students, in addition to materials provided to the general public. Stress that parents should be at the bus stop with their child whenever possible to ensure the safety of everyone involved. In doing so, parents can pass safety tips on to their children and set an example for other parents in their neighborhood. Help Bus Drivers Educate Students About Safe Riding Habits Bus drivers are more than vehicle operators who take students from point A to point B. Drivers are on the frontlines of the illegal passing issue – their primary duty is to ensure students are safe and secure throughout their ride. Officials can work with drivers to help spread the city’s safety message to children who ride their buses each day. Some states integrate safety tips and student communication strategies into bus driver training. Drivers can remind students to stay alert while entering and exiting the bus, including looking both ways before crossing the street and staying off smartphones or other devices until safely on the sidewalk. Provide drivers with a collection of short announcements about safe loading and unloading practices to share in their annual school bus training with students. The content of these announcements can be adjusted based on the ages of the students on the bus. Utilize Photo Enforcement to Combat Illegal Passing Bus drivers, public awareness campaigns and law enforcement monitoring all play a critical role in increasing safety around school buses. Automated photo enforcement adds another layer of protection, holding drivers accountable if they illegally pass school buses. School districts around the country rely on Redflex’s Student Guardian® to successfully reduce illegal school bus passing. The system, which appends to the bus’s stop arm, features state-of-the-art image capture technology that’s only triggered when a vehicle passes a bus when the warning lights and stop arm are activated, and children are loading or unloading. After a quality review, the data is submitted to local law enforcement to determine if a violation occurred. Redflex helps cities select routes where photo enforcement will be most effective, based on historical data and traffic surveys. The systems may be moved to different routes over time as drivers become more cautious around school buses. It is important to note that while one of these tactics may make an impact on their own, combining them into a full-fledged school bus safety awareness campaign can make an even bigger difference.