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Cars That Illegally Pass a Stopped School Bus: What do you think?

As a community of people dedicated to the safe transportation of more than 26 million children to and from school, we are astounded by the number of cars that illegally pass stopped school buses each day.
 
Illegal passing is defined as at least one motorist passing a school bus with its federally mandated stop arm deployed and red lights flashing when picking up or dropping off students.
by Mike Martin, NAPT Executive Director
 
As a community of people dedicated to the safe transportation of more than 26 million children to and from school, we are astounded by the number of cars that illegally pass stopped school buses each day.
 
Illegal passing is defined as at least one motorist passing a school bus with its federally mandated stop arm deployed and red lights flashing when picking up or dropping off students.
 
According to the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) more than 100,000 school bus drivers in 30 states and the District of Columbia reported 78,239 incidents of illegal passing in ONE DAY earlier this year*.

If that happens every school day, it would add up to more than 14 MILLION times in a school year. That's just ridiculous.
 
The fact that there are, on average, fewer than 6 fatalities caused by cars illegally passing stopped school buses each year must mean we are doing something right. But we cannot be lulled into complacency. We must keep striving to find a better way to prevent fatalities caused by cars that illegally pass a stopped school bus. Moreover, we must acknowledge and address the role we play in these tragedies.
 
Wait ...what? Here's what I mean.
 
I recently received a call from one of our members who met with law enforcement officials to discuss illegal passing and other back to school-related topics. According to my source's account, while the school transportation professionals were pro-actively discussing the need for enforcement of illegal passing laws, one of the state police lieutenants interrupted pretty assertively to suggest the school transportation community itself “needs to address the 'larger' issues of school bus safety that include bus drivers who do not follow rules of the road themselves and bus drivers that get behind the wheel with drugs or alcohol in their system, not to mention kids being run over by their own buses”.
 
As stunning as that seemed initially, the more I thought about the lieutenant's perspective, the more I could see what he was getting at. Yes, we have policies, procedures and training in place, but we need to rethink all of it because until we have zero school transportation related fatalities (more on that next month), we can do better.
 
First, however, we must come to grips with the reality that the problem of illegal passing is, in many ways, beyond our control. We will never be able to completely control what other drivers do behind the wheel. To quote Forrest Gump's mama, “Stupid is as stupid does.”
 
But a car speeding passed a stopped school bus does not get a pass simply because—so far—this Russian roulette hasn't caused a large number of tragedies. Things we typically advocate as countermeasures, like standardized penalties, stricter enforcement (including the use of cameras) and greater public education would help us address this problem. But we must also acknowledge that these countermeasures are not assuredly going to solve the problem, at least not quickly. They might collectively, and perhaps even individually help, but we certainly shouldn't expect them to be a panacea.
 
I think, therefore, we must publicly acknowledge that we might be part of the problem. And we must be open to changing our approach to problem solving, to trying to shift the paradigm, so to speak. We need to be even more creative.
 
For example, school buses everywhere are painted a unique yellow to make them more conspicuous in the traffic mix. Yet, credible human factors and ergonomics research into visual and auditory perception tell us that fluorescent colors, including yellow-green and orange are easiest to spot in daylight. Is the day upon us when we should at least have a conversation about changing the color of school buses, or perhaps the color of the front and/or back?
 
The potential benefit might be not just helping to deter illegal passing, but also preventing some of the crashes between school buses and other vehicles. In my view, one or both of these outcomes would make the effort worthwhile.
 
Before you begin the impassioned push back about such heresy, please hear me out.
 
Way back in the 1970s, firefighters began to analyze the role that the color of their trucks played in accidents. In an effort to reduce accidents, and presumably get more motorists to take notice of fire trucks with lights and sirens racing to a fire, some fire departments took the bold (and controversial step to industry stalwarts) of using some lime yellow trucks with white upper cabs. And guess what? These intrepid researchers found that the risk of visibility-related, multiple-vehicle accidents may be as much as three times greater for red or red/white fire trucks, compared to lime-yellow/white trucks.
 
Another study involving nine cities and 750,000 fire vehicle trips found lime-yellow fire trucks were HALF as likely as red trucks to be involved in intersection accidents. That's a big difference. Would the same benefits accrue for school buses? Do you think it would be worth a test/study of our own to find out?
 
This is just an idea to start a conversation, and maybe it's not a good one. But, in my view, the typical approaches to solving this problem are, at best, going to take a long time, perhaps a really long time. The status quo just doesn't seem acceptable. So, is there anything else we can do?
 
Good brainstorming is inclusive, creative and non-judgmental. In tackling big problems—and illegal passing of school buses is a really big one - we need all the mind-power we can bring to bear. I have great confidence in the professionals in this industry and in NAPT members in particular, so I respectfully ask for your thoughts and ideas.
 
What more can we do to prevent fatalities that result from cars illegally passing stopped school buses?
 
* http://nasdpts.org/StopArm/index.html

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