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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Watch Out For School Buses – They Could Be Watching You

The school year is beginning in many school districts across the country and more will be opening over the next several weeks. That means school buses will be returning to the roads. It also means that the lives of the children who ride those buses will be put at risk by motorists who illegally pass school buses while they are loading and unloading. The most dangerous time for students who ride school buses is while they are boarding or exiting the bus. In an average year, about 15 school age children will be killed while loading and unloading and approximately 500 will be injured.

The National Association of State Directors of Student Transportation Services (NASDPTS) conducted a single day survey earlier this year involving school buses in 28 states. According to the survey, almost 112,000 school bus drivers reported being illegally passed by 37,756 vehicles while the school bus was stopped with the lights flashing and the stop arm extended. Surprisingly, more than three percent of the vehicles passed the bus on the right side where students were loading and unloading. The NASDPTS reports that the 37,356 vehicles in those 28 states, on that single day, represent a total of more than thirteen million violations nationwide.

The problem with enforcing laws against passing school stopped buses is that, in most states, a law enforcement officer must actually witness the act before a citation can be issued. Some states have allowed the bus driver to record the license number of an offending vehicle but that only results in a warning letter sent to the driver. Now some states are looking at new methods for catching and convicting motorists who illegally pass school buses.

This year, four states (GA, VA, CT, and WA) have passed laws allowing school districts to install “Stop Arm Cameras” on the buses that will create a video record when a vehicle illegally passes a stopped school bus. The vehicle’s license number will be recorded and a citation will be mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle. Georgia's law, which went into effect on July 1st, calls for a fine of $300 for the first offense, $750 for the second, and $1,000 for a third offense within a five year period.

Other states including North Carolina, Maryland, are considering similar laws and Massachusetts and Ohio are conducting pilot programs to study the effectiveness of stop arm cameras.

As the children return to school, remember that all vehicles must slow and prepare to stop when the school bus is flashing its amber lights and they must stop once the red lights start flashing and the stop arm is extended. All vehicles must remain stopped until the bus driver has turned off the red lights and withdrawn the stop arm. In most states, vehicles traveling in the opposite direction on a divided highway do not need to stop but they should slow and be prepared to stop in case a child darts across the highway. Children are always unpredictable, watch out for them.

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