Houston program to crack down on motorists who pass stopped school buses

March 6, 2013 

It happens in a flash. A student steps off his school bus, drops a piece of paper and runs after it into traffic. The passing car -- that should have stopped -- begins a tragic story and changes lives forevermore.

The statistics are alarming. Every school day in the United States, more than 88,000 motorists illegally pass school buses as they stop to let students on and off. A study conducted by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services documented well more than 13 million violations by private motorists in a single school year. Nationwide, more than 400 children have been killed by drivers passing a stopped school bus during the past four decades, according to the Institute for Transportation Research and Education at North Carolina State University.

Georgia leads the nation in the deaths of children as a result of accidents outside of the school bus. Houston County is not immune to this serious problem. When our school bus drivers measured school bus stop arm violations in 2012 for one day, 86 motorists ignored the flashing lights and stop arm. This inexcusable and illegal behavior endangers the lives of children, some of whom are not much bigger than the backpacks they carry.

It’s impossible for law enforcement to shadow every school bus to ensure drivers stop while children cross the road to and from their bus. Parents, school bus drivers and school system officials realized that something had to be done to make motorists obey traffic safety laws and stop for school buses. In response to this need, a new program began in Houston County in March as a partnership between our school system, the Houston County Sheriff’s Office and American Traffic Solutions. This program will use cameras and traffic fines to improve the safety and transportation of our students riding school buses by reducing bus stop violations, collisions and injuries. Our overarching goal and our No. 1 priority is the safety of our children.

Georgia passed legislation in 2011 to permit counties to equip school buses with video cameras to catch drivers who illegally drive past school buses when they stop to pick up or drop off students. Rhode Island, Virginia, Connecticut, Maryland and Washington also have similar laws in place. Other states, including Florida and Texas, are working to get legislation passed.

By leveraging technology and partnering with our sheriff’s office, we are implementing a tool to help keep our children safe. We are in the process of mounting cameras on our school buses to video and photograph vehicles that illegally pass the stop arm. School bus safety cameras are like red-light cameras in that they capture images of a vehicle’s license plate and a brief video clip of the entire event. The photographic evidence along with location, time and other data are reviewed by authorities to determine if a ticket should be issued. Infractions are a civil violation with penalties ranging from $300 to $1,000. Red-light safety cameras have been shown to reduce red-light-running violations by changing driver behavior. The same results are anticipated with school bus safety cameras.

Traffic laws require drivers to stop when a school bus stops to accommodate children. Once the flashing lights have turned red and the stop signs have extended from the side of the bus, it is unlawful for any vehicle to pass the stopped school bus while it is loading or unloading passengers. To learn about bus safety in general or about this initiative, please visit our school board website at www.hcbe.net to view a video, frequently asked questions and more.

Let’s work together to encourage motorists in our community to obey the law and protect our children. Help our school district encourage motorists to obey the law and protect our children. One child injured is one child too many.

Robin Hines is superintendent of Houston County schools.

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