Recent events leave parents questioning the safety of their children when getting off and on school buses. According to Jeff Rossen, a reporter for The Today Show, on April 24, a speeding SUV nearly hit several elementary school students as they were about to board a school bus in Graham, Washington. According to the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Information Services, vehicles pass stopped school buses more than 70,000 times a day, even though passing one with its lights flashing is illegal in all 50 states. The Department of Transportation says that 23 million children ride a school bus every day. Now police are using new technology to catch drivers who threaten their safety by passing stopped school bus.
In 2014, the Rossen Reports team followed a school bus with the Broward County Sheriff’s Department in Florida. When the bus stopped, five cars flew by, even though the bus had its stop sign out and red lights flashing. Deputy Sam Pagano couldn’t even get all the violators, but he did stop two. One said he didn’t see the bus; the other said she saw it too late to stop. Both were slapped with $270 tickets. “To me, they’re not paying attention or they don’t see it,” Pagano said. “We’re talking about lives, children that could be hit.”
The problem has gotten so bad that school districts across the country are installing new technology on school buses: little cameras that activate when the bus stops. Like traffic signal cameras, they capture the license plate numbers of any cars that fly by. Violators are sent tickets in the mail, with fines ranging from $100 all the way up to $1,000.
According to a recent article in the USA Today, there are at least thirteen states who have enacted measures that would allow the use of cameras to target the dangerous action of “fly-bys” or “pass-bys” by scofflaw drivers who illegally pass stopped school buses. Those states include Wyoming, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia-have laws that authorize the use of cameras on the outside of buses to catch fly-by drivers, according to the NCSL. And at least seven states, including New Jersey, New York and Tennessee, are considering bills this year that deal with school bus monitoring cameras. They range from providing grants to school districts to buy and install the equipment to authorizing that the cameras be allowed statewide. Two other states, Virginia and Indiana, took up school bus camera bills this session, though neither passed.
Did you know that nearly half a million school buses are on the road every day in the U.S. State laws typically require motorists from either direction to stay stopped if a school bus’ flashing red lights are deployed and its stop signal arm is extended, unless it’s at a divided highway or there’s a barrier. In that case, cars may be allowed to travel in the opposite direction of the bus. But some drivers who are impatient about waiting for students to board or exit choose to ignore the warning signals and zoom around the bus. In many states, they face hefty fines for doing that – if they’re caught.
Between 2001 and 2013, nearly a dozen children between the ages of 6 and 17 died in school bus-related crashes involving another driver charged with illegally passing the bus, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Come on people, slow down. There is no room for error. These are defenseless children. Let’s protect them, not hurt them.