The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services raised an alarm that too many motorists continue to ignore school bus stops, or may not know or understand state laws, according to “unfortunately consistent” results from its 2013 Stop Arm Violation Survey.
In all, the 108,436 school bus drivers from the 29 states that participated in the survey reported that they observed 85,279 vehicles illegally passing school bus stops in one day. Unlike the past two years, the 2013 survey only reported the total number of illegally passing motorists rather than the number of incidents, which often can include two or more vehicles passing the bus at the same time.
“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,” said Max Christensen, NASDPTS president and the school transportation consultant for the Iowa Department of Education. “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.”
In all 50 states, school buses that take students to and from class are required by NHTSA to be equipped with stop arms and flashing red lights. Bus drivers activate the safety equipment when loading or unloading students. A variety of safety and stop messages, depending on state or local requirements, also adorn the back of school buses to warn other motorists.
According to the survey, half of 2013 incidents occurred in the afternoon, with more than 45 percent occurring in the morning and only 4.5 percent during mid-day routes that typically bus preschool and kindergarten students. Nearly all motorists, 98 percent, illegally passed the school bus on the left side. The survey also found that almost 62 percent of motorists traveling in the opposite direction illegally passed as they approached a school bus stop, which infers that the motorists were driving on a roadway divided only by a center line. Motorists must stop unless the roadway is divided by a median. Meanwhile, 38 percent of the illegal passers approached the bus from the rear.
Out of the 29 states, California led with the number of motorists and vehicles that illegally pass stopped school buses. According to the data, 9,147 California school bus drivers, the fifth most nationwide to participate in the survey, reported that they observed 30,634 illegal passing incidents on April 17 as the drivers loaded or unloaded students. The figure, which accounted for morning, mid-day and afternoon routes, was 60 percent more illegally passing vehicles than Florida, the state reporting the next highest number of illegal passes, at 11,684 as reported by 11,620 school bus drivers there.
Florida’s one-day count was conducted on May 1, and 643 more bus drivers participated this year over last year.
North Carolina had the most school bus drivers report at 13,631, which accounted for nearly every route in the state. North Carolina drivers observed only 3,316 illegal passes when the survey was conducted on March 13. The state also has one of the more aggressive laws — and penalties following successful convictions — in the nation. Still, the number of recorded illegal passes there rose by 116 from last year.
Georgia had the second-highest number of school bus drivers participate in the survey at 12,136. Those drivers reported 6,807 motorists illegally passing buses on April 25. This is a 7-percent decrease from last year.
Texas had the fourth most school bus drivers participate in the survey at 9,422, and 9,825 total vehicles were observed passing on April 10. Last year, 10,885 school bus drivers participated but only reported 8,853 motorists illegally passing at stops.
While the total number of illegally passing vehicles nationwide dropped by 3 percent from last year, NASDPTS added that the 2013 results are “unfortunately consistent” with those previous results. In 2011, 112,000 school bus drivers from 28 states reported 37,756 illegal passes involving 76,685 vehicles. The following year, nearly 100,000 school bus drivers also from 28 states reported 39,760 illegal passes involving 88,025 total vehicles. NASDPTS estimates that between 13 million and 16 million of these motor vehicle violations occur in “a typical 180-day school year.”
The percentage of motorists who passed the bus from the front and rear also remained similar within a few points, as did the side of the bus they passed on.