Some Texas school bus drivers dread this time of year. Many of them 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. But they already have a pretty good idea. A survey of school bus drivers conducted by the Texas Department of Public Safety about two years ago revealed 12,850 stop-arm violations on 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 figures 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 recommend methods to monitor the magnitude of the stop-arm violation problem on a statewide basis.
The project also includes evaluating the use of a bus video camera system as a tool to aid school districts and law enforcement in identifying stop-arm violators. TTI recently pilot tested a bus camera system with the College Station Independent School District. An evaluation of the pilot test is underway.
As part of their project, TTI researchers will develop brochures and other educational materials in an effort to reduce the number of stop-arm violations.