Stop-arm violations put school bus drivers on alert
Riding the bus to school. For many of us, it’s a pleasant memory full of children’s laughter, a bumpy (but fun) ride and the reassuring hiss of airbrakes.
While some commuters only have to decide if they’ll drive their car to work or not, parents have other factors to consider. Their number one concern is getting their children to school safely.
Many school bus drivers began their routes this year dreading the hazards associated with their job. They witness motorists illegally zipping by them as they pick up or drop off children along their routes. Pick-ups and drop-offs are the most dangerous times of the day for the estimated 1.4 million Texas children who ride a bus to school.
Yet, very few motorists are ticketed for the offense, known as a “stop-arm violation.” In most cases, a law-enforcement officer must witness the violation in order to write a citation.
Researchers with the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) are determining just how widespread the problem is. In 2006, the Texas Department of Public Safety conducted a one-day survey asking bus drivers to record the number of stop-arm violations. About 60 percent of the Texas school districts participated, recording 12,850 incidents in that one day.
“The problem is serious and seems to be getting worse,” says Patricia Turner, associate research scientist with TTI’s Center for Transportation Safety. “The figures indicate that the potential for death and injury is extremely high.”
Even so, there were only 831 stop-arm violation convictions in Texas in 2006 (the last figure available), a 42 percent decrease in convictions from 2001.
As part of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT)-funded project, Turner and other researchers will evaluate the effectiveness of video cameras on board school buses to monitor the magnitude of the problem and possibly identify stop-arm violators. TTI is working with the College Station Independent School District to test a video system.
“This pilot project is using digital camera technology to capture greater detail about the violations,” explains Sam Sinclair, program manager with TxDOT’s Traffic Safety Section. “Our expectation is that the lessons learned will allow state and local officials to implement effective public education and law enforcement campaigns, reducing the severity of the problem.”
Several states, including Texas, have or will consider legislation allowing the use of stop-arm cameras on buses. In 2007, legislation was introduced in Texas that would have permitted school districts to install digital or video monitoring systems, but the bill did not receive a public hearing.
Turner and her team will continue their efforts in a follow-up project aimed at raising awareness of the problem. Brochures and other materials are being developed for bus drivers and motorists to better inform them of the issue and, hopefully, reduce stop-arm violations through education.