A pilot program intended to reduce the illegal passing of stopped school buses through the use of enhanced lights called the Driver Alert System (DAS) started Monday in Michigan at 10 school districts throughout the state.
The program involves the usage of additional red lights on the back of a school bus when it is stopped to load or unload students. It will go on for the next two weeks, concluding on Friday, Oct. 30.
State Rep. Holly Hughes has supported additional lighting on the back of school buses since teen siblings Bruce and Antonia Privacky were killed after their car ran into the back of a stopped school bus in 2011.
“The safety of our kids while traveling to and from school is of paramount importance,” she said. “While the tragedy that occurred in 2011 was the impetus behind this program, through my research, I have learned that vehicle ‘pass-bys’ are a huge problem in nearly every school district in our state.”
The Michigan State Police, Michigan Department of Education and the Michigan Association for Pupil Transportation (MAPT) also support the program.
“I am very pleased that Rep. Hughes has taken a leadership role in working with us to address proactive ways to keep kids safe by making a conspicuous vehicle – a yellow and black school bus – even more conspicuous,” said Paul Wegmeyer, transportation director for West Ottawa Schools and legislative chair for MAPT.
According to the 2015 Survey on Illegal Passing by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, participating drivers reported over 1,000 illegal passing incidents in Michigan over the span of one day.
“Student safety is a primary concern for the Michigan Department of Education,” said Ken Micklash, Michigan state director. “These survey results are shared with Michigan schools in an effort to promote greater awareness of the dangers associated with students entering or exiting a school bus.”
Over the two weeks of the pilot program, participating districts will install approved enhanced rear lighting and study if these reduce the incidences of illegal passing.
“If the enhanced lighting is shown to be effective, I think all districts should consider installing it on their buses,” said Hughes.
Administrators and transportation directors in participating districts are optimistic about the possibilities of the program.
“As a pilot site for this program, we are pleased and excited to have this opportunity to help further protect our kids,” said John VanLoon, superintendent of Ravenna Public Schools.
“The hope is that the new DAS lighting will achieve greater compliance with school bus stop law. Bringing a lighting device more in line with typical motorists line of sight and describing what they are required to do will hopefully increase accountability and awareness,” said Darryl Hofstra, director of transportation at Forest Hills Public Schools.
Hofstra explained that his district was provided with three lighting units to test.
“We carefully selected buses/routes that we knew would produce several ‘pass-bys’ to record in our pre-installation data collection,” he said.
If the program is a success, Rep. Hughes will propose legislation that will require all new school buses purchased for use in the state to be equipped with a DAS unit.
The school districts participating in the program are:
- Forest Hills Public Schools
- Lansing School District
- Mason Public Schools
- Ravenna Public Schools
- Novi Community Schools
- Saginaw Township Community Schools
- Traverse City Area Public Schools
- Van Buren ISD
- West Ottawa Public Schools
- Zeeland Public Schools