3 Safety Tips to Combat Passing of School Buses

This week is National School Bus Safety Week. For 2020, the theme is “Red Lights Mean STOP!” to bring more awareness to the dangers of motorists illegally passing stopped school buses.

In our home state, the Michigan State Police (MSP) are in the midst of “Operation Safe Stop” from Oct. 19-23 to be on the lookout for those who illegally pass stopped school buses. According to the MSP, a similar effort in 2019 led to 2,100 citations being issued for failure to stop for a school bus, carrying a fine from $100 to $500.

With the issue of failing to stop for school buses being the focus of this year’s National School Bus Safety Week, we wanted to look at the investigation the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) completed earlier this year regarding its final findings of its investigation of one of the most publicized accidents involving illegal passing of a school bus in recent years.

That tragedy happened in October 2018 in Indiana when a motorist failed to stop for a stopped school bus, resulting in the deaths of three students and injuring another. This all happened despite the bus driver having activated the stop arm and flashing red lights on the bus.

Based on final findings of the investigation, here are a few safety recommendations the NTSB had for schools and organizations across the country that are especially relevant.

Greater Use of Technology

Of all the safety recommendations coming out of the investigation, the NTSB said one of the biggest recommendations it had was for the increased use of technology to prevent accidents and enhance student safety. Specifically, the NTSB recommends that all schools across the country should be able to use stop-arm cameras to help with this mission.

Stop-arm cameras have become a vital tool to both deter the dangerous driving behavior and document evidence of illegal passes while a school bus is stopped. Even the threat of being captured by a stop-arm camera has helped many schools around the country reduce stop-arm violations.

For example, Albemarle County Public Schools in Virginia found that over a two-month testing period, it tallied an 89 percent reduction in stop-arm violations over that time – all because people knew they could be captured on camera if they illegally passed a school bus.

If you’re already using stop-arm cameras, the NTSB noted that schools have a great opportunity to use their cameras to collect data for risk assessment across routes and pickup locations, which leads into the next point…

Evaluate Your Routes & Pickup Locations

Another safety recommendation the NTSB had was to continually evaluate routes and pickup locations and look for ways to make them safer. Looking at stop-arm camera systems, the NTSB recommended that schools using those systems go back and evaluate the stop-arm violations they have recorded to notice any trends.

Is there a certain stop that recorded a high number of illegal passes? Do students have to cross a high-traffic road to get to the bus? These are things you need to look at for opportunities to increase safety.

From the investigation of the fatal crash in Indiana, the NTSB found that even though the school bus had its lights flashing and its stop arm activated, the students still had to cross a 55 mph roadway to board the bus in the early morning.

One of the main issues the NTSB pointed to was the tendency for school bus drivers to pass down the same routes over the years – all without changing anything on those routes over time.

Given the time schools have due to the current COVID-19 shutdowns, this would be a good time to drive the routes and assess if there are potential options to increase safety on the route. Just because a route has been safe in the past doesn’t mean it’s still safe today.

Education & Enforcement

While increased use of technology and constant evaluation of routes and pickup locations are a few of the safety recommendations the NTSB had, the organization also recommended that an increase of education and enforcement is crucial in helping to avoid accidents like this one.

Even with the rise in use of stop-arm cameras and increased awareness of the danger of illegally passing stopped school buses, people continue to engage in this dangerous driving behavior at an alarming rate.

In its yearly one-day evaluation of stop-arm violations for 2019, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) counted more than 95,000 illegal passes across the nation in just one day – even though it’s illegal to pass a stopped school bus no matter where you live.

The NTSB recommends continually educating your community and students on the dangers of passing stopped school buses. Whether it’s putting out a newsletter to area residents highlighting this dangerous issue or having students continually practice safe bus boarding and exiting procedures, continued education is key to decreasing the number of illegal passes across the country.

On top of your own efforts, the NTSB also stressed the importance of working with local law enforcement to capture evidence of illegal passes to help prosecute offenders and educate the community further. If you have stop-arm cameras to capture evidence of those illegal passes, work with your local law enforcement of a procedure for how to securely share that video evidence with them.

One thing to remember is it’s important to check on what your local and state laws currently say on how evidence from stop-arm cameras can be used. This link provides a full rundown of each state’s laws regarding stop-arm camera use, and it’s regularly updated with new information as it comes. But if your state currently allows the use of footage from stop-arm cameras to be used as evidence for prosecution, you have a great opportunity to work with local law enforcement to educate, enforce and reduce motorists’ illegal behavior.

Protect Your Students with Pro-Vision

At Pro-Vision, our mission is to help you protect your students and your community. Let us help you capture evidence of stop-arm violators with our HD Dual-Lens Stop-Arm Camera that can integrate with our On-board School Bus Video Recording Systems to give you full video coverage on your buses.