Stop arms: Why do motorists ignore them?
Thursday, October 03, 2013
All of the school buses that I have had the pleasure of driving have had some sort of stop arm attached — some even have two — so why is it that the most common line heard when I report a stop arm violation is “I didn't see you there”?
The bus is bright yellow, and before it stops there are flashing yellow lights at the front and rear. When the bus has stopped, these change to flashing red, and a stop sign extends from the side of the bus. This also has flashing red lights on it.
There are several schools of thought out there as to why people do not stop for them. The biggest thing, though, is the lack of training. Not everyone realizes that it is an offense to pass a stopped school bus when the red lights are flashing and the stop arm is extended.
A lot of companies have come out with different things that are supposed to make it easier for the motorist to see them and stop. Everything from red strobe lights on the stop arm to a camera mounted on the side of the bus to take pictures of everyone who goes through when they shouldn't. Some companies have even outfitted some buses with LED signs at eye level on the rear of the bus to let the traffic know that the bus is stopping by flashing “BUS STOPPING” in bright yellow.
Despite all of these innovations, the motorist still passes a stopped school bus and nearly runs down a child that is crossing the road. We as bus drivers are responsible for the safety of each and every child on that bus, and as I say to everyone that goes through my training program, “You are carrying the most valuable cargo in the world: someone else's kids.”
Why is it so hard for other road users to realize what is going on when there is a bus right in front of them with red lights flashing and a big stop arm extended from the side?
To combat these few people who decide to run the arm, we now have cameras that are active when the red lights have been activated, and they take a picture of any vehicle that passes a point by the bus. This is then stored on a hard drive on the bus, and this can be downloaded automatically when the bus returns to base.
The information along with the picture is saved, and the local police department is informed. This has taken a lot of pressure off bus drivers as they no longer have to remember a lot of details about who/what/where and when the event occurred.
The only other solution to try and reduce this problem (and therefore the danger to the children) is educating drivers early in their driving careers. Most of them probably rode a school bus at some point in the many years that they were at school, so they should know what to do when they see the bus on the road.
Each and every child has to go through a bus safety drill where the driver talks to the children about the danger areas and the rules of the bus and what do to when they see one. Perhaps something similar to that for new motorists would be the way forward. I know that the written test for driver’s licenses has questions on the school bus on it as they appeared when I had to take my test. Would it be a good idea to have a section on the test dedicated to the school bus and how to react? This could be done either as part of the driving test or as a part of drivers Ed for the older kids when they are actually out on the road.
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Should driving tests feature a special section on school buses?
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