Tuesday, June 2, 2020
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It's getting better, but drivers still ignore bus stop arms

Drivers continue to bypass the stop arms on school buses at a high rate, but progress is being recorded, a new Maryland State Department of Education-sponsored survey has revealed.

Stop arms swing out from a bus and lights flash whenever it is making an on-roadway student pick-up. A total of 3,392 violations of school bus stop arms were recorded on a single day last spring. While that rate is less than half that of the initial survey in 2011, when more than 7,000 violations were recorded, nearly seven in 10 bus drivers witnessed a violation.

“Schools are set to open, and student safety is our paramount concern. Drivers must understand that it is illegal to pass a bus with its stop arm extended and its lights flashing,” said State Superintendent Lillian M Lowery. “While we are gratified with the progress being made, we want to emphasize that every student of ours is precious. There are no excuses for this violation.”

MSDE coordinated the survey in April along with school transportation directors in all 24 systems. It is considered a snapshot of illegal activity on the roads. More than 70 percent of the Maryland school bus drivers took part in the survey, compared to 63 percent completing the survey last year.

Violations have steadily declined over the three years the survey has been conducted. Bus drivers witnessed 7,011 violations in 2011, a number that fell to 4,657 last year. School systems and bus drivers have been raising awareness about stop arm violations for the past two years.

Large systems with more buses and bus routes noted the most violators. Montgomery County school bus drivers tallied the most—1,078 drivers ignoring the stop arm&38212;but that was down more than 400 from last year. Violations in Baltimore County dropped by more than 50 percent, 1,143 to 499, while violations in Frederick County dropped from 238 to just 24. Drivers in three small counties—Kent, Somerset, and Talbot—did not find a violation.

The survey was undertaken at the behest of a number of members of the Maryland General Assembly, which has been monitoring school bus safety. The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) is coordinating surveys of this type in all 50 States. Passing a school bus with its lights flashing is illegal in all 50 states (PDF).

While a smaller number of buses participated in Illinois and data are only available, at this time, for 2011 and 2012, the number of violations observed in Illinois on a one-day snapshot decreased from 3,108 in 2011 to 2,114 in 2012.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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  1. Today I received the following press release from the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation, referenced in the above article, which I requested. It says the results from the 2013 survey of 29 states will be posted to their site within a few days, here, but as of this writing, it wasn’t. I am therefore posting it temporarily on our site, here. The 2011 and 2012 data for all the states will have to be retrieved from the organization’s site.

    Motorists Still Endangering Children by Passing School Buses Illegally

    Des Moines, Iowa (Aug. 13)—Today, the national association representing state directors of pupil transportation released the results of its 3rd annual survey on illegal passing of school buses. In 29 states throughout the country, 23 percent of the nation’s school bus drivers participated in a one-day survey to report how many times motorists passed their stopped school buses illegally. Over 108,000 school bus drivers reported that 85,279 vehicles passed their buses illegally on a single day. Throughout a 180-day school year, these sample results alone point to over 15 million violations by private motorists.

    “There are nearly a half million school buses on the road each day in the United States,” said Max Christensen, president of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services. He added, “This survey captured only a fraction of the violations that bus drivers and other professionals in school transportation and law enforcement know are occurring each and every day. Students are far safer in school buses than other ways of getting to school, but when they are outside the bus in the danger zone, they are quite vulnerable. Any driver who passes a stopped school bus illegally is gambling with a child’s life.”

    NASDPTS first coordinated the annual survey in 2011, and the results have been unfortunately consistent. In 2011, 76,685 illegal passes were documented during the one-day survey, and in 2012, 88,025 illegal passes were documented. Based on these data and recent, tragic student fatalities, some states are adopting more stringent safety countermeasures, such as improved motorist education, increased fines, and more law enforcement, including the use of photo evidence from cameras mounted on the sides of school buses. NASDPTS stresses that there is no single solution to this problem. A comprehensive approach, involving education, enforcement, and engineering, will be necessary to reduce illegal passing and achieve the goal of zero fatalities to students during transportation to and from school.

    As a result of a resolution adopted by NASDPTS and its members at its most recent national conference, NASDPTS will also be researching state laws and rules to provide a nationwide inventory of required procedures for when motorists must stop for school buses. The research will document the consequences in different states for violations, whether video evidence is admissible in each state, and, what other types of evidence are necessary for law enforcement agencies to issue citations for illegally passing a stopped school bus.

    NASDPTS encourages state directors, local school districts, law enforcement agencies to issue citations for illegally passing a stopped school bus.

  2. The participation level from Illinois bus drivers in this survey for 2013 was disappointing compared to their participation in 2012. Only 310 school buses participated in the one-day survey, which was the lowest participation rate of all states in the survey, except for South Carolina and Tennessee. Even Idaho had more buses participate than Illinois, and Tennessee had only local submissions—no statewide coordination.

    In Illinois, 3,324 buses participated in the survey in 2012, and 4,805 in 2011. The drop in participation is disappointing, because this is still a problem in Illinois, and lower data input rates give us less of a handle on how bad the problem is: the sample size is just too small to extrapolate to the entire state.

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