“Avoid harm. Obey the Stop Arm.” That’s the theme of National School Bus Safety Week (October 19-23). The theme refers to the moveable red stop sign extending from the side of a school bus, warning motorists to stop because children are getting on or off the bus and may be crossing the street.
The goal is to raise awareness about school bus stop laws and the consequences of breaking the law. In Texas, motorists must stop for a school bus with flashing warning signals and stop arm extended. They must remain stopped until the bus starts moving, the bus driver signals, or the flashing lights are turned off.
Sadly, too many drivers ignore the law. A Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) study estimated that 2.96 million vehicles illegally pass stopped school buses in a typical school year. That’s almost 17,000 illegal passes every day in Texas.
Throughout the week, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) troopers and police officers are riding on buses and issuing citations to drivers who illegally pass when the bus stops to load and unload students. Drivers face fines up to $1,000 if convicted of violating the law, and can be charged with a state jail felony if convicted a second time.
“Whether a driver intentionally ignores the law or simply is unsure about when to stop, the result is the same,” explains TTI Associate Research Scientist Patricia Turner. “Children are put at risk of injury or even death.”
To raise motorists’ awareness of the law and the penalties for disobeying it, TTI developed posters and brochures promoting the message, “Stop! Flashing Red, Kids Ahead.” TTI also produced a tip card for school bus drivers to help keep students safe in the danger zones around the bus, where they are at greatest risk of being injured.
“The two most important areas of emphasis for these materials were educating the public about when to stop and what the consequences would be if they don’t,” states TxDOT Project Director Sam Sinclair. “The materials are an excellent way to educate the public because they address these concerns and the serious nature of violations.”