Purpose of This Guide
This guide has three purposes:
- If you are not yet actively working to reduce stop-arm violations, we hope this guide will motivate you to start.
- If you have already decided to work to reduce stop-arm violations, this guide will help you to benefit from others' experiences.
- If you have an established program, this guide will give you ideas to keep the momentum going.
This guide is divided into three parts.
Illegal Passing: The Problem
Reducing the incidence of illegal passing of stopped school buses is easier said than done. The solution to this complex problem requires the involvement and cooperation of many groups (motorists, school bus drivers, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and local judicial officials) to make sure the law is obeyed, violations are reported, and the law is enforced.
Illegal Passing: A Model Solution
A number of States and local areas have taken on the challenge. From the lessons they have learned, the elements of a successful stop-arm compliance program have been gleaned to propose a "model" program to reduce stop-arm violations. This "model" program is described in the second part of this guide.
Illegal Passing: Real-Life Successes
The third part of this guide includes brief descriptions of some of the programs around the country and the interesting and innovative activities they have undertaken.
The big yellow school bus approaches the intersection of First and Main. Seven or eight elementary school students are waiting near the curb. First the yellow lights come on. Then the school bus comes to a halt. The red lights start to flash. The stop-arm goes out. The school bus driver looks at the traffic behind her and in front of her and thinks, "Will anyone try to pass?"
School buses and motorists. Both have been part of the morning and afternoon landscape for five generations of school children. Although yellow wasn't adopted as the school bus color until 1939, school buses have been around since 1915, about as long as the automobile.
In all that time there has been an uneasy coexistence between school buses and motorists. School buses make frequent stops to load and unload students. It is the nature of their business. By law, when a school bus stops to drop off or pick up students, motorists must stop too. But motorists often don't want to stop. Motorists want to get where they are going, with little interruption and as quickly as they can.
The act of illegally passing a stopped school bus with red lights flashing is commonly known as a "stop-arm violation." This refers to the stop-sign shaped "arm" that extends from the left side of the bus when the red lights are activated.
Yet, in a 1997 survey on speeding and other unsafe driving behaviors, 99 percent of the drivers interviewed felt that the most dangerous unsafe driving behavior was passing a school bus with its lights flashing and stop arm extended. Passing a stopped school bus was considered to be more dangerous than any other unsafe driving behavior, more dangerous even than racing another driver, driving through a stop sign or red light, crossing railroad tracks with red lights blinking, passing in a no-passing zone, and speeding.
The National Survey of Speeding and Other Unsafe Driving Actions was commissioned by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Three thousand drivers, ages 16 to over 65, completed the unsafe driving survey. To get a copy of the three-volume report (DOT HS 808 749) describing the methodology, the findings, and suggested countermeasures, contact the National Technical Information Service at www.ntis.gov or call 703-605-6000.
It's the Law
Every one of the 50 States has a law making it illegal to pass a school bus with its red lights flashing and stop-arm extended that is stopped to load or unload students. However, some motorists simply choose to ignore the law.
- They might be coming toward the bus, decide that no students are crossing the road, and just keep going.
- They might be behind the bus, pull into the left lane, and go around the bus.
- They might be behind the bus, pull onto the shoulder, and pass the bus on the right.
All States require the traffic in both directions to stop on undivided highways when students are getting on or off a school bus. While wording varies from State to State, generally the law requires the following: The school bus driver activates flashing yellow lights to indicate the school bus is preparing to stop to load or unload students. At this point, motorists should slow down and prepare to stop. The school bus driver activates flashing red lights and extends the stop arm to indicate the school bus has stopped and students are getting on or off. At this point, motorists should stop.
State law varies in what is required on a divided highway and what constitutes a divided highway. However, in all cases on divided highways, traffic behind the bus must stop.
Proving the Law Was Being Violated
While the number of actual crashes caused by this violation is low, the potential for injury or death is high. For years, school bus drivers have been aware of, and have complained about, motorists illegally passing their school buses. In the mid-1990s several States conducted surveys to determine the actual extent of illegal passing. What they found was worse than they had imagined.
- The School Transportation Management Section of the Florida Department of Education conducted a study in 1995 through the University of South Florida. On one day in May of that year, 10,590 vehicles illegally passed stopped school buses in 58 of Florida's 67 school districts. Since approximately 11,150 school buses participated in the survey, this meant an average of almost one illegal passing per school bus that day.
- A one-day study was conducted in September 1996 in 119 of the 131 school divisions in the State of Virginia. On that day, 3,394 Virginia motorists illegally passed a stopped school bus. Multiplying the results by a 180-day school year brings the total number of illegal passing to over 600,000 a year. Of the 3,394 total in September 1996, 187 were right-side passes, on the side of the bus students use to enter and exit.
- In 1996, the Illinois Department of Transportation's Division of Traffic Safety conducted a probability-based sample survey of 250 school buses to estimate the total number of stop-arm violations in the State. Drivers of 250 buses were asked to record stop-arm violations during a 41-school day time period. The survey was completed and returned by 135 drivers who reported 3,450 violations. Based on the findings, the estimated number of stop-arm violations each year in Illinois is over 1,900,000, making it a major traffic safety problem.
Trying to Reduce Stop-Arm Violations
NHTSA took note of the surveys, both its own (showing that drivers perceived illegal passing to be dangerous) and the three from the States (showing the extent of the violations). NHTSA also heard from the pupil transportation community that passing a stopped school bus with red lights flashing, illegal in all 50 States, was a serious and widespread problem.
In response, NHTSA sponsored four demonstration programs. The intent was to show what different approaches could be taken to address the stop-arm violation problem (illegal passing of stopped school buses) and to demonstrate what worked, and what didn't work, and why.
A brief description of each of the four demonstration programs is included in the third section of this guide: Real Life Successes. The grant to the Florida Department of Education was awarded in 1997. The grants to the Illinois State Police, the Clearwater (Florida) Police Department, and North Carolina Department of Public Instruction were awarded in September 1998.
At the same time as the surveys and demonstration projects were being conducted, a number of States and local communities also resolved to reduce the incidence of stop-arm violations. They found that it was not a simple task.
In fact, the problem has several layers. To successfully increase stop-arm compliance, a program must address each of the three layers and the groups involved.
This part of the problem includes two factors:
- Lack of knowledge of the law
- Lack of compliance with the law
Lack of knowledge of the law
As improbable as it seems, motorists may be unaware of the specifics of the law and the consequences for breaking the law.
- Motorists need to know what the law is. In particular, they need to know what types of highways are covered by the law (e.g., all roads or only non-divided highways).
- Motorists need to know what the penalty is for breaking the law. Some States have set very high fines, as well as a number of points or the potential for license suspension, as an indication of how seriously they view this violation.
- Motorists need to know what the safety consequences are for disregarding the law. For example, young children are at greater risk of injury or death if a motorist violates the law.
Lack of compliance with the law
Lack of information is only part of the reason why the law is not obeyed. Another part of the reason is lack of compliance. While the illegal passing rate is generally lower in rural areas, one can find motorists everywhere who intentionally or unintentionally disobey the law.
Motorists can be very blatant in disobeying the law. They pull up behind the bus and go around the stop arm. As they approach the bus in the oncoming lane, they disregard the flashing red lights and just keep driving. Different parts of the country have different issues that contribute to intentional or unintentional disregard for the law.
- In urban areas, the school bus stop may be near a traffic light. When that light turns green, motorists may focus on the traffic light and pass the stopped bus despite the red flashing lights and extended stop arm.
- On open roads where the speed limit is higher and visibility might be reduced, stopping quickly may be harder. Once they see the school bus, speeding motorists may not be able to stop.
- On roads traveled by the same people every day, motorists may know that, at certain stops, children don't cross the road as they load or unload. These motorists may see no problem with passing a s topped school bus to avoid being stuck behind the bus.
This part of the problem includes four factors:
- Lack of information
- Lack of motivation
- Lack of procedures
- Difficulty in establishing a baseline
Lack of information
School bus drivers too may be unsure of the specifics of the law. School bus drivers need to review what is and what is not a violation so that they can accurately report stop-arm violations.
Even if they do know that a violation has occurred, school bus drivers may be unsure about what to report. They need to review what must be included in a stop-arm violation report. By neglecting to record some information, they may jeopardize law enforcement action.
Lack of motivation
The most logical people to report stop-arm violations are school bus drivers. However, driver reporting of stop-arm violations is often low. Remember that, for school bus drivers, this problem is not new. For many bus drivers, reporting stop-arm violations has had little impact. School bus drivers may feel little motivation to make a report if reports are not pursued, charges are dismissed, and the incidence of the violation does not decrease.
Lack of procedures
In many States and communities, there is no clear guidance on what a school bus driver should report and to whom the report should be made. Even when there are policies established by law enforcement for notifying motorists of probable violations or for monitoring high-incidence areas, there may not be an easy mechanism for passing information from the school bus driver to the notification agency or to the enforcement agency.
Difficulty in establishing a baseline
Traditionally, incidence of a crime is established by counting the number of citations issued. However, stop-arm violations are often not witnessed by law enforcement. These violations are witnessed by the school bus driver—a civilian. Law enforcement is often very skeptical about the accuracy of the counts done by school bus drivers because relying on driver reporting means depending on the accurate knowledge and motivation of the drivers.
Let's briefly examine each of these layers.
This part of the problem includes three factors:
- Misgivings about the report
- Difficulty enforcing the law
- Difficulty getting convictions
Misgivings about the report
One reason for a lack of follow-through on a report is the gray area of this violation. Since in many States this is one of the few violations (if not the only violation) that a civilian can report, law enforcement is often dubious about the accuracy of reports submitted.
Difficulty enforcing the law
Along with reporting difficulties is the challenge of enforcing stop-arm laws. In many States, only a law enforcement officer who witnesses the act can write a citation for a stop-arm violation. A violation reported by a school bus driver cannot be written up.
Yet stop-arm violations are often random. You can't always predict where violations will occur. Even at locations with a high incidence of reports, you can't predict when a violation will occur.
Add to this the shortage of law enforcement officers and you have an almost impossible situation:
- To have a citation issued, a law enforcement officer must witness the violation.
- But violations occur haphazardly, often in places that officers can't routinely patrol because they are required elsewhere.
Difficulty getting convictions
Even when a citation has been written, the story is not over. If a motorist chooses not to pay the fine and contests the citation, the motorist goes to court. Unfortunately, many local judicial officials don't take the problem of illegal passing seriously and reduce the charge or throw cases out entirely.
Sometimes the case is dismissed for insufficient evidence. There must be evidence that a particular vehicle committed the violation. This requires not just the vehicle make and color but a license plate number. In those areas where a citation can be issued based on a driver's report, bus drivers often find it hard to get a license plate number when they also have to watch the road, operate the bus, and manage the students.
Sometimes the charge is reduced because of the penalty for the violation. In some States, the penalty for a first offense is high (e.g., large fine, mandatory license suspension) and magistrates and judges are reluctant to impose such a penalty.
A Model Solution
When establishing a stop-arm compliance program of any kind, whether big or small, there are four questions that must be asked.
This section of the guide discusses how to answer each of these questions.
A successful comprehensive effort to reduce stop-arm violations must be two-pronged involving Education/Awareness and Enforcement. To involve just one without the other would be a frustrating waste of time with little return.
Goal #1: Education and Awareness
Every player in the process can benefit from additional information. Your goal is to both raise awareness of the need for compliance with the law as well as educate about the contents of the law. You want to educate:
- School bus drivers in proper stopping procedures as well as the law
- School bus passengers in how to enter and exit the bus safely
- Motorists on the law and the dangers of not obeying the law (e.g., citation, fine, points on their license, student injury)
Remember that your ultimate aim is to change behavior. Provide the information in a way that gets people's attention but doesn't offend them or make them unwilling to listen.
Goal #2: Enforcement
Increasing enforcement of your illegal passing law is a critical goal. How vigorously you can pursue this goal will depend on the law enforcement commitment and resources in your community. Studies have shown that, without the threat of enforcement and without the public actually seeing or hearing about the law being enforced (this includes prosecution and conviction), your program will have little, if any, impact.
Developing Your Goals: Be SMART.
Each of your goals should meet the following criteria. They should be:
The goal explains exactly what you want to do.
Example: "To decrease stop-arm violations while children are loading and unloading from a school bus."
The goal should contain a percentage or number you want to reach or accomplish. In the way you can determine if you reached the goal.
Example: "To decrease stop-arm violations by 50% while children are loading and unloading from a school bus."
The goal should be achievable. To decrease stop-arm violations by 100% would not be an achievable goal, no matter how desirable.
The goal should not be too easy or too hard. It is reasonable to think that you can decrease stop-arm violations while children are loading and unloading. It would not be reasonable to set a goal of never having a motorist pass a stopped school bus again, no matter how desirable.
The goal should have a deadline. Example: "To decrease stop-arm violations while children are loading and unloading from a school bus by 50% by (a specific date)." Remember the criteria of "attainable" and "realistic" when setting this deadline. Twelve months might be reasonable; four weeks is not.
One reality that must be acknowledged from the very beginning is that everyone who will be involved in your effort is already busy. The logical organizations to take on a stop-arm compliance program might be school transportation and law enforcement. However, in most communities both these professions are experiencing a personnel shortage.
No one person or organization can or should assume the full responsibility of a program to reduce stop-arm violations. However, if a lot of people can do a little, you can produce an impressive and successful result. Don't be shy about seeking partners. Although an organization may not step forward voluntarily, it may be eager to participate if asked.
Be creative when considering possible partners.
Who cares about this issue?
Who should care about this issue?
Who has expertise, material, or access to services that would be useful?
Your first step should be looking for community organizations that already address injury prevention, health and safety, or children's issues. For example, does your community have a Safe Communities Coalition or a SAFE KIDS Coalition? (See the resources listed at the end of this guide for ways to locate these coalitions.) Such coalitions may have already collected critical data and have established contacts with other community groups and local businesses. An affiliation with these coalitions can bring your program credibility and ongoing support.
Here is a list of partners that some programs have included. Some of your partners will be involved early in choosing a structure and possible activities. Other partners will join as the activities are developed.
At the State level:
- Governor's Office
- State Highway Safety Office (manages state's highway safety program; serves as liaison between governor and highway safety community)
- Department of Transportation
- Department of Motor Vehicles
- Department of Public Health
- Pupil transportation association(s)
- School bus contractors association(s)
- State police
- Chiefs of Police association
- Association of school business officials (business administrators)
- Association of local judges/magistrates
- Private sector (e.g., insurance industry, suppliers)
At the local level:
- Pupil transportation services in school districts
- Law enforcement agencies
- Judges, Magistrates
- Parent/teacher organizations
- School board/administrators
- Community and service organizations
- SAFE KIDS coalition (provides information and materials for adults and children to prevent unintentional injury)
- Safe Communities coalition (helps communities identify and solve their motor vehicle injury problems)
- National Safety Council chapter
- Traffic safety alliance/association
- Neighborhood Watch
- Private sector (e.g., local businesses, hospitals, utilities)
Program activities are the visible part of your program. Activities turn your goals into actions. This is what the public will see.
While the opening of school is a key time to implement a stop-arm compliance program, you need to reinforce your message throughout the school year with waves of information and education as well as with periodic enforcement blitzes. Some key times might be as school comes back into session after winter or spring break or if there is an increase in violations.
Developing a Stop-Arm Compliance Program: An Overview
Most transportation safety programs include four basic components: enforcement, engineering, education, and policy/legislation.
Activities in this component are designed to increase compliance with traffic laws. For a stop-arm compliance program, the focus would be on increasing compliance with laws governing the passing of school buses. Law enforcement agencies may increase enforcement of such laws at the beginning of the school year or at specific times throughout the year to reinforce the importance of these laws and to increase motorists' adherence to them.
Selective Traffic Enforcement Programs (sTEP) have been found to be especially effective. These programs are implemented in waves. The first wave consists of public education and publicity to raise awareness of the law and inform the public about the upcoming period of increased enforcement. The second wave is a period of increased enforcement. This is followed by a period of normal enforcement combined with another wave of publicity to inform the public about the results of the increased enforcement. These waves (education/publicity-enforcement-publicity) can be repeated as necessary.
This component looks at issues such as design, construction, and signage. For a stop-arm compliance program, activities might include analyzing a bus route with a high number of illegal passings to determine safer locations to load/unload or researching changes to the bus that would make it more visible (e.g., additional lights).
Education and awareness is a major component of nearly every transportation safety program. It can encompass a broad range of activities, depending on the objective of your program and the audience you are trying to reach.
Different activities are used to reach different audiences. A program to reduce the illegal passing of school buses might utilize a public education campaign targeting parents, students, teachers and administrators, and the general public to increase their awareness of the dangers of this situation. Specific activities might include:
- Providing teachers with materials they can use to help students learn the importance of looking for passing cars before they cross the street at the school bus stop
- Sending information home to parents (1) to alert them to help their children look for illegally passing cars at the school bus stop, and (2) to remind them about their obligations as motorists to observe the law
- Having law enforcement officers speak to school or community groups
- Putting flyers about the law and stop-arm compliance in driver's license renewal forms sent out by the Department of Motor Vehicles.
However, a program to increase enforcement of the law might require small group or one-on-one meetings with law enforcement and judicial officials to provide statistics and even videotapes showing the extent of the problem.
This component includes activities aimed at getting legislation passed or policies established at the state or local level to increase student transportation safety. Your program may include efforts to change legislation. Or you may choose to direct your efforts toward the policies established by local law enforcement agencies. Examples of issues addressed in legislation or policies may include fines, points, and enforcement strategies.
Federal laws prohibit the use of NHTSA funds for direct lobbying activities and grassroots lobbying activities that specifically target pending State or local legislative bills. These restrictions do not apply to state officials engaged in direct communication with their legislatures, under customary practices in the State. Similar restrictions may apply to other sources of Federal funds.
Enforcement activities include both routine enforcement and selective enforcement.
Routine enforcement means handling the violation during normal patrol duties just as other violations are handled.
Using selective enforcement means one of two things:
- Concentrating on this violation if there are a lot of stop-arm violations reported in one area or on one bus route.
Areas or routes with a high incidence of stop-arm violations are sometimes called hot spots. Selective enforcement in a hot spot might involve:
- Officers patrolling identified intersections
- Officers following a particular school bus
- Officers riding a particular school bus
- Combining enforcement of stop-arm violations with other special enforcement efforts (e.g., speed enforcement, red-light running, and aggressive-driving enforcement). Often these behaviors are found together.
New York Operation Safe Stop
On Operation Safe Stop day in 1999, the participating law enforcement officers wrote 839 tickets for passing stopped school beses. But those same officers also wrote 1078 tickets for other violations (e.g., speeding, stolen cars, drugs).
Selective enforcement of speed and aggressive driving usually occurs on a regular basis. When stop-arm compliance is added to other selective enforcement efforts, it receives more attention than if a law enforcement agency tried to carve out time for stop-arm enforcement alone.
Engineering Aspects to Increase Visibility
Some Communities have explored ways to change the school bus itself to make it more visible in the hope that this will get motorists to stop
The Fayette County School Corporation in Connerville, Indiana, has begun installing flashing headlamps on their school buses. Head-on violations have decreased dramatically. (See the Fayette County School Corporation description in the third section.)
Pulaski County, Arkansas, has three of the largest school districts in the state. All of the new school buses that transport students to magnet schools have three stop-arms, two on the left and one on the right. Illegal passing appears to have been significantly reduced. (See the Pulaski County (Arkansas) description in the third section.)
Education and Awareness Activities
Media coverage to general public
Given that there will be limited time for everyone to devote to this issue, concentrate your energies on one selected day or week of the year. This could be during National School Bus Safety Week or it could be another designated day or week (e.g., right before school opens). Use the media (print, radio, television) to publicize your concerns about school bus safety and the illegal passing of stopped school buses.
If your State has a mechanism for citizens to report stop-arm violations, use the media to publicize what to do if a violation is spotted.
Activities might include:
- A press conference/event that generates news articles and stories
- Public service announcements (PSAs) on both radio and television
- Advertisements in newspapers and on billboards
- A media person riding along in a patrol car behind a school bus or on a school bus to film a violation. (Remember that you can't guarantee that a violation will occur.)
Publicity about successful prosecution can also work to deter motorists, especially if the penalty in your state is severe (high fine or loss of license) and that fact is publicized as well.
Even though you may only make a big splash once a year, be sure to have some ongoing activities to keep your message alive. No matter how dynamic your efforts, once a year is not enough to make an impression. You will be throwing away your time and your resources.
Outreach to motorists
Motorists need information:
- Raise motorists' awareness about the need for the law to help keep children safe. Sometimes they forget that school is in session, especially if they don't have school-age children.
- Educate motorists about the contents of the law: how and when they need to stop; when they can pass and when they can't.
- Educate motorists about the penalties if they disobey the law.
In addition to media coverage, consider other ways to reach motorists with information about the law and the penalties.
Activities might include:
- Flyers in the driver license renewal mailing
- Flyers in utility bills
- A variable message board at a troublesome spot to warn motorists of the presence of a school bus stop and the requirement that all traffic stop
- Advertising banners on public buses
- Flyers through local businesses
- Presentations at community group meetings
- Booths at community and traffic safety events
- An article in a community organization, business, or employee newsletter
- An insert with pay stubs
- An addition to the driver education program
A One-Person Campaign
Guntersville, Alabama, doesn't have a large program to reduce stop-arm violations. But it does have Tony Simmons. For 19 years the illegal passing of stopped school buses has been Tony's pet peeve. Three local radio stations and the local TV station carry PSAs for Tony. He gets free advertisements from the newspapers in the county. When there is a particular spot that is experiencing a lot of violations, Tony will wander over to the police headquarters (on the same campus as the Marshall County Board of Education) and ask the trooper on duty in that area at that time to monitor the spot.
But Tony is in his elelment when one of the school bus drivers can get the license plate number of a motorist passing a stopped school bus. Tony sends a notarized form to the Marshall County Probate Judge's Office (which includes the driver license division) requesting registration information. Once he receives the information, Tony sends a letter to the registered owner of the vehicle, informing the registered owner that the vehicle illegally passed a school bus on a particular date and time. The letter asks the owner to call Tony within 10 days to say who was driving the vehicle.
Amazingly, many of them do call. If the person calling seems remorseful and apologizes, Tony takes the opportunity to educate him about the law and the importance of stopping for school buses loading and unloading children (many of whom have to cross the street). However, if the person is belligerent, the Board of Education prosecutes. In 19 years the Board has prosecuted 200 cases and only lost three.
Outreach to professionals
Information should be provided to school bus drivers, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and the judiciary.
Inform school bus drivers
- Review correct stopping procedures and what is a legal stop.
- Review what constitutes an actual violation.
- Review what to include in the stop-arm violation report.
- Review the procedure for making the stop-arm violation report and what happens with the report once it is filed.
Inform law enforcement officers
- Remind them about the potential seriousness of the violation. Although the number of crashes is low, the potential for community outrage is high.
- Review the law.
- Review the State's reporting requirements and procedures. Inform prosecutors.
It is very important to know on whose word a citation can be issued. The law varies from State to State. In some instances, only law enforcement officers who witness the violation can issue a citation. In other States, a citation can be issued based on the report of a motor vehicle inspector, a school bus driver, or even an ordinary citizen.
- Remind them about the potential seriousness of the violation.
- Remind them about the importance of their part in the process. Successful enforcement and a reduction in violations depend on their prosecution of violators.
- Review the law.
- Review the State's reporting requirements and procedures.
Inform judicial officials, particularly those who hear these cases.
- Remind them about the potential seriousness of the violation.
- Remind them about the importance of their part in the process. Successful enforcement and a reduction in violations depend on their conviction of violators.
- Review the law and the penalties.
- Remind them that it is very difficult to track convictions (for baseline data or for repeat offenders) when the charge is reduced to a lesser charge.
Take advantage of opportunities when professionals meet (e.g., school bus driver in-service training, law enforcement roll call). Keep your information simple and brief. Use presenters who are known to and/or credible with the audience.
One important, yet often nonverbalized, aspect of outreach to professionals is remembering that these professionals are often wary of each other. School bus drivers and other school transportation officials may have felt ignored in the past when they reported stop-arm violations. Law enforcement officers may not understand the nature of the school bus driver's job nor trust what they report. Prosecutors and magistrates may not appreciate the magnitude of the problem. Any contact between these professionals, such as officers riding school buses, helps to foster better relationships and respect.
Organization and Administration
Knowing what you want to do and how you want to do it is not enough. There must be a structure for organizing and administering your program, no matter how limited or how extensive your plans.
Find your partners
A list of potential partners was given earlier. Use it to stimulate ideas about possible partners in your area. Include a wide range of partners in order to make the program the most effective. Not all the partners will need to carry the same weight. But having a more extensive base gives you a larger network to reach with your message and a greater number of people to share the load. Reach out to potential partners at State conferences and through your press/media conferences.
The primary partners in a stop-arm compliance effort are school transportation services, law enforcement, SAFE KIDS or Safe Communities coalition (if in the area), and the media. You need to get early buy-in from these primary partners if your efforts are to succeed.
Remember that many potential partners (even primary ones) may be unaware of the extent of the problem and they may need information to raise their awareness (this could include law enforcement and other members of the criminal justice system). Other potential partners may be aware of the extent of the problem but need information about what they can do to address the problem.
Keep your program simple and the time requirements minimal
Tell your partners what you need from them. Remember that many partners, especially those in the public sector, will not be able to contribute money. However, they should be able to help you with:
- In-kind contributions (e.g., printing your materials, publicity about your program or your message, a location or refreshments for an event);
- Support (by giving you access to their networks); and/or
- Making specific requests of individual partners.
This helps everybody know where they stand. For example, ask the pupil transportation and school bus contractors associations to distribute your materials to each of their members or ask a local insurance company to print refrigerator magnets that you can hand out at the State fair.
These Are the Facts
- By all measures, school buses are the safest motor vehicles on the highways. When comparing the number of fatalities of children 5-18 years old during "normal school transportation hours" in the 1988-1998 school years, school buses were 70 times safer then passenger cars, light trucks, and vans.
- The most dangerous part of the school bus ride is getting on and off the school bus.
- 1988 to 1998:
- Average of 10 passengers killed each year in school bus crashes. Most of the school bus fatalities were in non-survivable situations.
- Average of 31 pedestrians killed each year while getting on or off school buses, 23 of whom were struck by the school bus and 8 of whom were struck by another vehicle.
- Half of the pedestrian fatalities in school-bus related crashes are children between 5 and 7 years of age.
Source: Fatality Analysis Reporting System
Enlist local coordinators (for statewide programs)
It is in local communities that violations occur and it is in local communities that the program's activities should take place. While coordination can happen at a State level, for a program to be successful in reducing the incidence of stop-arm violations, there must be a local component.
The responsibilities can be shared this way:
- The local coordinators are responsible for education/awareness and enforcement efforts in their region. They enlist their own local partners to help with these efforts.
- The State-level organizers develop and distribute a how-to package for the local coordinators. The package might include:
- A checklist of things to do
- A sample press release
- Sample letters to local partners
- An information sheet about the law and compliance that can be duplicated and distributed to the general public
- Information about the program to reduce stop-arm violations
- A School Bus Driver's Incident Report
- A Hot Spot Summary (completed by the transportation supervisor and given to the police department)
- A Local Coordinator Reporting Form (report of media and law enforcement activity during the designated day/week)
- Guidance on the procedures a local law enforcement agency might use to process reports from school bus drivers (e.g., who pupil transportation services gives information to and what is done with the information)
- Available educational material
You will need some funding for program coordination efforts, the how-to package, and any items (buttons, mugs, etc.) you want to distribute. Much of this funding can be in-kind contributions.
Sources for funding include:
- The program's sponsoring agency (if there is one)
- The program's partners
- The private sector
- Community businesses who want to show their concern
- Vendors who have a stake in the pupil transportation business (e.g., parts suppliers, distributors, insurance companies)
Establish a program plan
Develop a strategy for implementing your program. Include the following information for each activity:
- What will be accomplished?
- By when will it be accomplished?
- Who will accomplish it?
- What resources will be used to accomplish it?
Write down your plan. It doesn't need to be elaborate or formal but it should include the elements listed above. Distribute your plan to the primary partners so that everyone can track your progress.
Evaluate your efforts
The sponsoring agency or primary partners should periodically evaluate the program. There are two kinds of evaluations that will help you:
- Process evaluation
- Outcome evaluation
Compare your goals and your planned activities with what you actually did. Ask yourselves these questions:
- Was the program implemented as planned?
- What audiences did you reach?
- What resources were spent?
- What problems were encountered and how were they handled?
- What lessons have you learned?
- Are there new ideas that could be tried?
Use this information to get an overall picture of what you accomplished and to modify your program and future activities.
Measure the extent to which you have met your goals and have created changes in knowledge, attitudes, and/or behavior. This evaluation assesses your program's impact. Has there been a reduction in the number of illegal passing reports? Has there been an increase in citations? Has there been an increase in convictions?
Outcome evaluation is much more complex and costly than process evaluation. You will probably need outside expertise to conduct an outcome evaluation. Check with your state's Highway Safety Office for evaluators in your area. Local colleges and universities, academic research institutes, and public health agencies are good sources of evaluation expertise.
Use Evaluation Results To:
- Improve your program
- Publicize your success
- Get additional resources
- Gain community support
- Give credit to your partners
A number of communities have taken on the challenge of reducing the incidence of stop-arm violations. They have approached the problem in various ways. This section looks at some of those programs' experiences. The hope is that reading about the trials and successes of others will give you food for thought as you develop or expand your program.
Each program description includes five sections:
- Noteworthy Aspects
- Lessons Learned/Successes
- Future Plans
- Contact Information
The following programs are described:
Connecticut's Operation Safe Stop was started about 1995, following New York's Operation Safe Stop model. The primary sponsor is the Connecticut School Transportation Association (COSTA), an association of all the school bus carriers, public and private, in Connecticut. The partners involved in Operation Safe Stop include:
- Governor's Office
- State Highway Safety Office
- Department of Public Safety
- Department of Motor Vehicles
- State and local media
- Local police departments
- Superintendents of schools
Operation Safe Stop's focus is one day in April that is declared by the governor as Operation Safe Stop Day. On this day police officers, State troopers, and motor vehicle inspectors (who can write tickets) target Trouble Spots (routes and stops) with concentrated enforcement. The fine for a first offense is $450.
COSTA distributes a how-to packet to local coordinators. It also provides items (buttons for drivers to wear, commuter mugs for officers) for the school bus companies to buy and distribute.
NOTE: Ninety percent of school transportation is contracted in Connecticut.
Every year COSTA does a survey of stop-arm violations one month before Operation Safe Stop Day and then again on Operation Safe Stop Day. COSTA sees a significant reduction in violations between those two surveys as well as a reduction from year to year. For example, the 1999 March survey results were 34 percent lower than the March 1998 survey results.
- The program depends on the local coordinators to make it happen. These are the people who need to make contacts with local media and local police departments.
HINT: If you don't have a contact in the police department, ask the DARE officer for a suggestion of whom in the police department would be good to approach.
- Media hints:
- Get one of the wire services to distribute a story about your event. Then local papers will pick it up.
- It is easier to get a piece in the newspaper if you work through the Superintendent of Schools, as news out of the Superintendent's office may be taken more seriously.
- The education component is the most successful because it raises the awareness of motorists and it clarifies the law. The enforcement component gets the attention of those who get tickets.
- Ten years ago, Connecticut passed a law that allows a school bus driver to file an anonymous complaint about an illegal passing incident with the police department and requires the police department to send a written warning to the motorist. However, in reality, not many warnings are sent, even after the incident report is filed. Many communities have found that, by fostering better relations between the school bus company and the police department, the police department is more apt to send a warning.
- Operation Safe Stop Day is a morale boost for school bus drivers. It is one day in the year that their complaints are taken seriously.
COSTA believes that it is time to re-evaluate Operation Safe Stop Day because they are losing momentum and enthusiasm.
In 1995, the Florida Department of Education (DOE) conducted the original survey described at the beginning of this guide. Chosen as one of NHTSA's four demonstration projects, Florida DOE established a toll-free line for citizens to report incidents of illegal passing. In Florida, no ticket can be issued unless the act is witnessed by a law enforcement official but DOE responded to these citizen reports by sending out a warning letter to the motorist to whom the vehicle was registered. The letter included a pamphlet about the statute and the results of Florida's survey—almost two million illegal passings every school year.
Florida DOE also produced a 30-second public service announcement videotape as well as artwork that was used for 25,000 pamphlets (in both English and Spanish) and 5,000 posters. Through the Florida Cable Association, the PSA was aired 5,297 times in a 45-day period by the nine major cable providers in the state. Community Traffic Safety Teams (CTSTs) distributed the pamphlets and posters at local events (e.g., county fairs, celebrations). Posters were also displayed in local tag and driver license offices throughout the state.
Florida's Community Traffic Safety Teams (CTSTs) are locally based groups of highway safety advocates committed to solving traffic safety problems related to the driver, the vehicle, and the roadway. CTSTs use a comprehensive, multi-jurisdictional, multi-disciplinary approach. Members include local city, county, and state law enforcement agencies as well as private industry representatives, local citizens, and other traffic safety advocates.
At the conclusion of the demonstration project, another survey was conducted. There was no difference in the incidence of stop-arm violations.
- The toll-free line, 888-STOP-4KIDS, gave Florida's citizens a low-risk way to report a violation. All information from these calls was destroyed right away for the protection of the caller (so there was no possibility of determining who made the call).
- During the time that the toll-free line was in effect, efforts were successful in increasing the fine for the violation from $25 to $50 plus points. It is now a major infraction.
- PSAs aren't a good way to distribute information. They are usually broadcast at hours when few are watching or listening. Billboards might be better.
- Try to change the law so tickets can be issued for acts not witnessed by a law enforcement official.
- A statewide program needs a local component in order to be successful. See Clearwater (Florida) Police Department in the Community Programs section of this guide.
Federal laws prohibit the use of NHTSA funds for direct lobbying activities and grassroots lobbying activites that specifically target pending State or local legilative bills. These restrictions do not apply to State officials engaged in direct communication with their legislatures, under customary practices in the State. Similar restrictions may apply to other sources of Federal funds.
Although funding levels are reduced since the demonstration grant has ended, Florida DOE plans to keep awareness heightened by working through the CTST teams.
“When the lights flash red, KIDS AHEAD”
New York State is widely regarded as the trail blazer in large scale efforts to reduce the incidence of stop-arm violations. Their first pilot project, sponsored by the New York Association for Pupil Transportation (NYAPT), took place in 1993 and was patterned after the Operation Lifesaver program called "Officer-on-the-Train." Based on the formulas used in the Florida and Illinois surveys, NYAPT estimates that 35,000 - 50,000 motorists illegally pass stopped school buses each day in New York.
The goal of Operation Safe Stop is two-fold: to educate motorists statewide about the law and to enforce the law. The list of partners is extensive:
- State Highway Safety Office
- New York Association for Pupil Transportation (NYAPT)
- School Bus Contractors Association
- New York State Traffic Safety Boards Association (each county has one)
- Department of Criminal Justice Services
- New York State Police
- Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)
- State Department of Education
- Conference of Parents and Teachers
- Statewide media
- Utica National Insurance Group and other insurance companies
- Vendors (manufacturers, bus distributors, parts distributors)
- Transportation supervisors
- School bus contractors
- Town justices
- Local and county police
- Local media
Because there are too many school districts to have an organizer in each, Operation Safe Stop's activities are organized locally by counties. To make the efforts manageable, the counties are grouped into eight regions statewide. Each region has three coordinators: one each from law enforcement, the county traffic safety board, and NYAPT. These three coordinators reach out to everyone in the region.
New York Operation Safe Stop has both ongoing and periodic activities.
When school bus drivers see a violation, they complete a School Bus Drivers Hot Spot Report and turn it in to their transportation supervisor. The transportation supervisor completes a Hot Spot Summary and periodically gives it to the local police agency to monitor Hot Spots.
The transportation supervisor also periodically sends copies of the school bus drivers' reports to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). DMV sends a letter to the motorist saying that it has received a report that the motorist illegally passed a stopped school bus and telling the motorist what the law is.
DMV also randomly distributes a flyer about the law with driver license renewals.
There is a major one-day blitz on the Thursday before National School Bus Safety Week in October. To prepare for this day, NYAPT distributes an information package to the regional NYAPT coordinators who organize the regional awareness and enforcement efforts. Regional coordinators also track their efforts and report back to NYAPT after the one-day event.
On the day of the blitz day, information is distributed to the public on all the major television, radio, and press markets. Some media representatives ride in buses and some in police cars following buses. Police officers ride in school buses, follow school buses, and patrol hot spots. Town Justices are notified of Operation Safe Stop and they are asked to deny plea bargaining efforts. In New York, the first time penalty is $250-$400, five points on the driver's license, and/or a possible 30 days in jail.
- All 64 counties in the State participate in the one-day event.
- The extensive network of partners ensures that all parts of the community are involved in the effort.
- With an estimate of 35,000-50,000 motorists illegally passing stopped school buses each day in New York, the problem is significant. Operation Safe Stop is a vital effort.
- As with general traffic enforcement, enforcing stop-arm violations will yield additional results. On Operation Safe Stop day in 1999, the participating law enforcement officers wrote 839 tickets for passing a stopped school bus. But those same officers wrote 1,078 tickets for other violations (e.g., speeding, stolen cars, drugs).
- Raising funds is important. The first two years of the program were funded under a grant from the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee. However, NYAPT doesn't have funds to supply materials. To produce the information packages for local coordinators, NYAPT has asked for support from the private sector. Cash donations come from many sources: malls, grocery stores, service organizations such as the Rotary and the Knights of Columbus, any group that will support their efforts.
- Limit the organizational meetings. People are too busy. You really just need one regional meeting with the partners (law enforcement, traffic safety advocates, and school transportation personnel) before Operation Safe Stop day, to explain the program.
- Though they are getting the message out better than ever before, “there are still a lot who don't care.”
- Evaluate progress.
New York can show that fewer tickets are being written, although it can't explain why. Are there fewer violations because the word is getting out or is Operation Safe Stop not comprehensive enough? In addition, New York doesn't know what is happening to those tickets that are written. It is hard to find out about convictions because many charges are reduced. Many questions remain unanswered. How many citations are processed as charged? How many are reduced to a lesser charge? Why? How many motorists are fined?
NYAPT and its partners are exploring ways to get those answers.
- Develop videos.
NYAPT will be working with a teacher in a college video program who, with his students, will design and produce three videos.
- A roll call video to be distributed by the Department of Criminal Justice Services and required to be shown at State, county, and local police roll calls.
- A 30-second PSA to be distributed by NYAPT to TV stations.
- A five-minute videotape to be distributed to all schools for use at PTA/PTO meetings.
Pennsylvania Operation Safe Stop began in 1997. Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) coordinates the program. The program's partners, who meet a few times a year (at least once before and once after the kick-off program) include:
- State highway safety office
- Pennsylvania State Police
- Chiefs of Police association
- Pupil transportation association
- State school transportation contracting association
- Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials
They are still trying to get the District Justice Committee on board.
The Operation Safe Stop kick-off program is held during National School Bus Safety Week in October. Before the event, PennDOT sends a package to all school transportation directors, contractors, and law enforcement agencies who in turn contact local media and law enforcement and organize the school bus drivers.
On the day of the event, school bus drivers report violations. Law enforcement officers concentrate enforcement efforts on stop-arm violations. The media publicizes what is happening. In 1999, 150 of 500 school districts participated. PennDOT tracks the violations reported and the citations issued.
- Of the citations written, there is a 70-percent conviction rate as charged, amounting to over 1,000 convictions a year. This is significant because the penalty for the violation in Pennsylvania is hefty: a $100 fine, a 60-day mandatory driver license suspension with no allowance for an occupational limited license, and five points on the motorist's license.
- However, in some areas local law enforcement officers have dropped their efforts to enforce this law because magistrates won't follow through with imposing the penalty.
- Use your media contacts to get the word out to motorists.
- Get buy-in from local associations for your efforts. This will increase your network of ways to spread the word.
PennDOT wants to work on ways to get stronger involvement from law enforcement. One effort is a pilot project in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. See Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) Police Department in the Community Programs section of this guide.
Efforts to address the problem of stop-arm violations in Tennessee are through the Department of Safety's Tennessee Highway Patrol and Pupil Transportation Divisions. The Highway Patrol focuses on county areas, outside of city limits. The Highway Patrol divides the state into eight districts.
The Highway Patrol has both ongoing and periodic activities to encourage stop-arm compliance.
The Department of Safety's Pupil Transportation Division provides reporting forms to school systems. School bus drivers complete the forms when they see a violation and the school system sends these forms to the Department of Safety. The Department of Safety then sends a letter to the motorist saying what was reported and what the law is.
In August before school starts, the Department of Safety conducts a campaign to call attention to the problem. The safety officer of the Highway Patrol in each district spearheads the efforts. The safety officer works with local media, distributes media advisories/releases, and works with schools to get officers on school buses.
Throughout the year, the safety officer talks to school students of all ages and to civic groups such as the Rotary and Kiwanis about school bus safety, including illegal passing.
In Tennessee, a school bus driver has the option of filing a warrant for a person's arrest if the driver can identify the motorist. The case is then pursued through the local judicial system. In reality, this doesn't happen very often.
Sending the letter to the motorist based on the school bus driver's letter is a bluff game. Word the letter as strongly as possible while staying within the law.
The Department of Safety will continue the program with its limited resources. There are 400 road troopers for the whole state. Sometimes this means that there is only one trooper to cover two or three counties.
The Clearwater (Florida) Police Department program was one of NHTSA's four demonstration projects. Its goal was to combine enforcement and education efforts on the local level to reduce stop-arm violations. The partners in this program were:
- Clearwater Police Department
- School Board's transportation department
- Community Traffic Safety Team
- County chapter of National Safety Council
- Drive Smart Tampa Bay Traffic Safety Alliance
- Neighborhood Watch
- Florida Department of Safety
- Local media
- Patrol officers worked overtime with traffic officers during school transportation hours to conduct speed enforcement and stop-arm compliance operations near bus stops and school zones.
- The police department promoted its traffic complaint tip-line to report illegal passing of stopped school buses.
For school bus drivers
- Supervisors were briefed on encouraging drivers to take the time to make reports.
- Drivers were briefed on what to report.
- Those drivers with the most reports were recognized with a special coffee mug with the school bus program logo on it, pens, key chains, and a certificate.
- A variable message board, placed in problem areas identified by driver and parent complaints, displayed a message about not passing a stopped school bus.
- Materials provided by Florida Department of Education (posters and a video for PSA) were used. The artwork on the poster was made into advertising banners for the public transit buses on 10 routes throughout the county.
- School bus safety was discussed on the police department's monthly cable access television program. Ads were also run on Radio Disney, an AM radio station for kids.
- The police department developed and printed a tip card in the form of a bookmark about the illegal passing law and its penalties. The department also developed a series of distribution outlets for the tip card:
- With the receipts at a local car wash chain
- By the local store of a national bookstore chain
- With all traffic citations
- To all utility customers
- To all owners of locally registered vehicles reported on the state's tip-line
- Presentations were made at neighborhood watch and community group meetings.
- The police department staffed booths at city-sponsored special events and displayed posters at traffic safety events (e.g., child safety seat checks, bicycle safety jamborees).
- The police department purchased the robotic "Barney the School Bus" (with functional lights and a stop-arm) and took Barney to local malls and special events.
- The Clearwater Police Department sought and included a wide variety of partners and some creative ideas in its efforts to make motorists more informed and more aware.
- Enforcement works. The number of annual citations for illegal school bus passes increased from 49 the year before the project to 358 the year of the project. The number of violations reported by school bus drivers increased from 326 before the project to 1,074 the year of the project.
- Other partners may have budgets that are already set and they may not be able to support your efforts financially.
- Efforts are more successful with solid partnerships. The schools are a critical partner. The police department worked with the school bus drivers to identify hot spots. They now have a "bus stop hit list" which lists bus stop locations, time, direction of travel, and the best place to observe violations.
- Roadway design may contribute to the problems. Motorists believed that multi-lane roads with a shared left lane constituted a divided highway and thus believed that they didn't have to stop for school buses.
- The Clearwater Police Department will continue addressing the problem of motorists illegally passing stopped school buses. Since the conclusion of the demonstration project, there is no money for overtime. However, the police department is making stop-arm enforcement a regular component of the aggressive driving enforcement campaign.
- The police department will use e-mail to rapidly collect school bus drivers' reports of motorists illegally passing stopped school buses and will distribute the reports to the appropriate traffic commanders.
Fayette is a rural county with one main city, Connerville. Three State highways lead into town. There are quite a few small businesses so traffic from tractor trailer-trucks is fairly heavy on the three highways.
Fayette County School Corporation has 54 bus routes, including the Head Start program. There are numerous bus stops on the State highways, requiring the faster-moving and rush-hour traffic to stop. The School Corporation tries to do routing so that there are only right-hand stops. In fact, in only one instance must a child cross the highway.
The School Corporation has found that red and amber lights provide adequate warning to motorists in town but on the open highways they are not sufficient. Highway motorists don't see and/or don't stop for the school buses, especially in daylight. Fayette County School Corporation wanted to find a way to get the attention of these motorists.
School bus drivers observed that, on the open highway, motorists took notice of police with alternating flashing headlamps. Recently the option of adding the alternating flashing headlamp system used by police and fire vehicles became available to school buses. Fayette County decided to install three systems on buses whose routes had the most problems with stop-arm compliance
The results were immediate. The first day, the School Corporation got phone calls. One motorist said, “Wow, I really saw the bus.” Other school bus drivers said, “I want one on my bus. It really gets your attention.”
The results were so successful that Fayette County has installed flashing headlamps on all highway and Head Start buses. In the entire school year there was only one head-on violation, versus three to four a week before the systems were installed.
NOTE: This system works to stop motorists coming head on. There are still problems with motorists coming from behind or from the side.
At the start of school, various means are used to distribute the message: "School is in session. Watch out for students getting on and off school buses." PSAs are played on a popular local radio station and information runs on a local cable TV station. Vendors who supply the school buses are asked to buy ads in newspapers.
The School Corporation works with local law enforcement to increase patrolling of hot spots. In addition, Indiana law allows for the following procedures:
- A school bus driver who witnesses a stop-arm violation of his or her own bus completes a detailed form that includes license plate number; make, model, and color of vehicle; time; date; location; affirmation that the bus driver followed proper stopping procedure.
- The transportation director sends the form to the County Prosecutor.
- The County Prosecutor identifies the owner of the vehicle and issues a citation.
- For a violation witnessed by a bus driver, the penalty is $68. If a police officer witnesses the violation and issues the citation, the fine is higher and there can be up to two-year license suspension.
Four or five times a month, Fayette County gets enough information on a stop-arm violation to submit it to the Prosecutor.
- The kit to retrofit a school bus with the strobe-like flashing headlamp system is $95 and takes an hour to install. The system doesn't require special activation by the driver. When the stop arm comes out, the system comes on.
- The Fayette County School Corporation works well with its partners (law enforcement, the prosecutor, media) to combat stop-arm violations.
To increase visibility and driver compliance, move school bus stops away from intersections.
Fayette County will retrofit all its school buses with the flashing headlamp system as they are routinely serviced. In the future, the School Corporation will “spec” new buses with this option.
Indiana law is not specific in identifying the vehicles that can use the alternative flashing headlamp system (e.g., ambulance, police, fire, school bus). School bus equipment is prescribed by the State School Bus Committee that creates administrative rule for school bus construction and equipment features. To enable school buses to use the alternative flashing headlamp system, the State School Bus Committee set out specifications and notified school bus users of the option. It has been popular thoughout the State.
Onslow, New Hanover, and Pender
There are two parts to the program in North Carolina: a state survey and a NHTSA demonstration project.
The first State survey was conducted in 1997 with 99 percent of the school districts participating. In one day, 2,636 violations were reported. After the survey, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) distributed press releases highlighting problem. The survey was repeated in the spring of 1998 with similar results.
Based on the 1998 survey results, DPI applied for and received a NHTSA demonstration grant to operate in three counties (Onslow, New Hanover, and Pender). DPI's partners in the project were:
- Division of Motor Vehicles, School Bus and Traffic Safety Section
- State highway safety office
- Local school systems in all three counties
- Local law enforcement (Sheriff's departments in all three counties as well as local police in Wilmington, Jacksonville, and Burgaw)
- State highway patrol
- Local district attorneys' offices
- Institute for Transportation Research and Education, North Carolina State University
- The private sector
The first step was to make sure that everyone knew the law and the roles and responsibilities of the various players.
DPI worked with law enforcement agencies and the district attorney to agree on the definition of the violation.
At an initial meeting of all project participants, the discussion indicated that law enforcement officers were generally skeptical about the initial statewide violation count. They felt that some school bus drivers, in an effort to better control traffic, were activating the stop arm before the bus was completely stopped. This pointed out the need for continuing education of school bus drivers. Training sessions were held in all three counties prior to the continuation of the project. This training focused on:
- How to stop correctly
- What is a legal stop
- What constitutes an actual violation, so drivers would know what violations to report
A brochure and six-minute video were developed to help with school bus driver training.
After this training, school bus drivers were asked to record the number and location of stop-arm violations during four one-week periods. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology, which allows street locations to be mapped and associated data to be reported, was used to provide key information for law enforcement on the locations of stop-arm violations. This allowed law enforcement to patrol high incident locations. Grant money was used to pay overtime for state troopers to increase the enforcement effort.
With support from the private sector partner AllTel, radio PSAs were played statewide. Instead of relying on the motivations of the media, DPI purchased air time for television PSAs to ensure that the PSAs would be shown in prime time. The PSAs ran for one week in Wilmington.
Press conferences were held to publicize the law. Video images were provided for the media to use.
DPI coordinated a booth at the state fair to publicize the problem caused by the illegal passing of stopped school buses. The exhibit was staffed by local school district personnel.
Some law enforcement officers also were skeptical about the severity of the problem. In Onslow County, a video camera was mounted on the stop arm of one school bus. It recorded footage of violations as they occurred. Although the camera couldn't capture the license plate number, it provided law enforcement with proof of actual violations and convinced law enforcement of the problem.
Law enforcement officers and the school transportation director then worked together with driver reports and the camera to get more convictions. The school bus driver would get the license plate number. Law enforcement telephoned the motorist who usually denied the report. Law enforcement then brought the motorist in and showed them the video footage. At this point the motorist often admitted guilt.
On Whose Word?
In almost every circumstance throughout this country, a law enforcement officer must witness a violation of the law in order for a citation to be issued. Some states make an exception for the illegal passing of stopped school buses since such infractions are most often witnessed by people other than law enforcement officers, for example school bus drivers and ordinary citizens. In these States, procedures have been established for the person witnessing the crime to submit a report and for some part of the criminal justice system (law enforcement or prosecutor) to issue a citation based on that report.
- The camera captured violations when they occurred. There was no need to rely on police officers being present at the right place at the right time.
- Although the camera couldn't capture the actual license plate number, using the camera provided visual documentation of the violation occurring. This visual documentation was often what was needed to convince motorists that they had been caught.
- The video footage was also used at press conferences and distributed to the media, making the problem more real.
- The cameras don't move easily. They are usually placed on the buses with the most violations. If another bus route is experiencing increased violations, the bus with the camera is moved to that route.
- Law enforcement needed physical visual evidence of the violation to be convinced of the problem.
- There must be a good relationship between law enforcement and the school transportation director for any efforts to succeed. The project improved this relationship.
- DPI saw a decrease in the incidence of violations from one observation week to the next.
- The cameras used were analog, requiring time to download the footage. Digital cameras would be faster (and smaller) but also more expensive.
- Purchasing airtime for PSAs is very costly and didn't show immediate results. It would be better to try to generate TV news coverage rather than buying the airtime.
- The videotape will be shown at school bus driver in-service training throughout the State.
- Four more counties are adding cameras on some of their buses. That number is expected to increase as news of the camera's success spreads.
- The one-day survey will continue to be conducted every spring.
The Pittsburgh program was developed from the impetus of Pennsylvania Operation Safe Stop to get stronger involvement from law enforcement in reducing stop-arm violations.
The partners in this program include:
- Pittsburgh Police Department
- Local media
- City transit department and city public works department
- School bus contractors
- City magistrates
An initial grant funded some activities that had to be discontinued due to lack of funds. In the initial grant, during a two-week media blitz period, there were billboards, posters, and banners placed on city buses. Banners were also placed on the front of the police department building, which is located on a downtown street. The artwork showed police officers next to school buses with red lights flashing saying “Protect Our Kids. Stop for the School Bus.” The goal was to show that school buses are being passed illegally and that police officers care about the safety of school kids.
There continue to be both periodic and ongoing activities.
At the beginning of the school year, a media blitz about the problem of illegal passing is done through local media contacts (print, radio, television--both network and local cable). A major problem area for stop-arm violations is on the streets just outside the city schools. From time to time, a television reporter with camera accompanies a police officer parked in an unmarked vehicle outside the school to document the violations and use the footage to remind the public of this safety problem.
Throughout the year, the police department patrols hot spots of illegal passing identified by school bus drivers. In unmarked vehicles, public works vehicles, and motorcycles, officers patrol problem intersections and follow school buses on problem routes. Officers don't give warnings; they only write citations.
The police department works with school bus contractors (all school buses are contracted) to use a Citation Summons form, which provides information about a violation (license number, time, date, location). An officer will meet with a group of school bus drivers to show them how to complete the form. Completed forms are sent to the police department. School crossing guards are also authorized to report violations using the same system.
Based on the report, the police department issues a citation. About 80 citations a month are issued based on a school bus driver report. Another 100 citations are issued from police officer reports.
If a motorist appeals the summons, the school bus driver who saw the violation goes to a court hearing. An officer always goes with the driver. NOTE: The charge is often reduced. Pennsylvania's penalty is rigorous: $100 fine, 60-day mandatory driver license suspension with no allowance for an occupational limited license, and five points on a driver's license.
- The police department has worked with the Chief Magistrate to have these hearings held on only one day a week and after 9:30 a.m. to allow school bus drivers to complete their routes.
- The head of the Special Deployment Division can mobilize officers as needed to patrol a hot spot.
- Two officers have been assigned to always take the reports from the school bus drivers. This creates consistency and continuity for both the drivers and the officers.
Open communication (between police department, contractor, magistrates) is critical.
As mentioned, currently many illegal passing citations are reduced to a lesser charge. Since the violation does not get recorded as “passing a stopped school bus,” magistrates are unable to identify second offenses.
Personnel involved in this project would like to see a sliding scale penalty for this violation. For example, rather than the current mandatory 60-day suspension for a first offense, start with 15 days and increase it. That way a charge would be less likely to be reduced and would go on a motorist's record as “passing a stopped school bus.” For a future offense, a magistrate would then know that a motorist had already been charged for this violation and would be more apt to increase the penalty for subsequent offenses.
There are 310 school districts in the state of Arkansas. Three of the largest districts are in Pulaski County, the county that includes Little Rock. Through court-ordered desegregation, a system of magnet schools was established, requiring a large number of students to be bused every day. The routes are predominantly urban.
The State was given the responsibility for providing transportation to the magnet schools within the three school districts. This meant purchasing school buses. When specifications were drawn up for the new buses, the Coordinator for School Transportation decided to request three stop arms, two on the left side of the bus; one in the front and one in the rear; and one on the right side in the rear. They are all activated at the same time.
No formal data have been collected on the effectiveness of the three stop arms but anecdotal data seem to indicate that this configuration is working. Transportation supervisors have not had complaints about illegal passing from the drivers of buses equipped with three stop arms.
Pulaski County will continue to purchase new buses with three stop arms.
Teton County is the home of Jackson Hole, a year-round attraction for tourists. Fifteen thousand people, 2,000 of them students, make their permanent home in the 6,400 square miles of Teton County. Most of the 18 bus routes are paved, two to five lane roads with speeds of 25 to 65 mph. Illegal passing of stopped school buses is one of the main complaints of the school bus drivers.
When a new Transportation Supervisor started in 1982, he decided to see what could be done to reduce stop-arm violations. At that time, when a school bus driver would send a violation report to law enforcement, he or she rarely got a response. The law enforcement agencies in the county seemed to feel that illegal passing wasn't really a problem because no one had been hurt or killed. It was clear that a new approach was needed.
The strategy chosen in the 1980's is still used today:
- Training is conducted with school bus drivers to make sure that they are stopping properly and that they are being consistent in determining what is a violation. For example, in Wyoming a motorist has to completely overtake the school bus for it to be considered a violation.
- All violations, whether the motorist can be identified or not, are written up and are entered into a database maintained by the school district.
- All the people involved help develop and improve the process used. Initially, school transportation, law enforcement, and the prosecutor worked together to develop the reporting form. They still debrief often after court appearances to talk about new things to try or how to better record the information gathered. Sometimes the judge joins them.
- Violations are reported in this manner:
- If the driver can get at least a license plate number, he or she calls in the violation from the bus to the school bus garage. It is even better if the driver can get a description of the vehicle or the motorist.
- The staff at the garage then calls the report in to the sheriff. While the driver finishes the route, law enforcement tries to get a registration number for the vehicle.
- If law enforcement finds a match, an officer comes to the garage and interviews the driver before trying to find the motorist.
- If there is no match, law enforcement calls the garage to let them know. The information still is entered into the database.
In addition, the back-to-school insert in the newspaper includes a one-third page reminder about the law.
- In the past few years, Teton County has been having more success in court as the seriousness of the violation is understood more directly by the criminal justice system.
- Having the law enforcement officer come to the school bus garage often means that the officer gets more details than ordinarily would be included in a written report. This makes the officer feel more prepared if he or she has to testify.
- If the law enforcement officer feels there is evidence of a possible violation, the officer has two options: write a citation or offer the Ride-Along Program to the motorist. To complete the Ride-Along Program, the motorist must ride a regular school bus route five times. If the motorist does this, his or her record will be expunged.
NOTE: If the violation is particularly flagrant, a school bus driver can stipulate on the report that the Ride-Along Program is not an option. Likewise, the Transportation Supervisor can refuse to allow a motorist to ride on the bus if the motorist is belligerent when he or she shows up at the school bus garage. In general, this program—having the motorist see the situation from the school bus driver's perspective—seems to provide good education to these offenders.
- Start the database early. The information was helpful in convincing law enforcement and the public of the problem.
- Dumb luck helps, as these three examples show:
- In the mid-1980s the head mechanic's wife was the president of the PTA. She asked what the PTA could do to help the school bus drivers. PTA volunteers rode on some of the buses to help record violations. The media found out what the PTA was doing and decided to do a story. In researching the story, they interviewed the judge, a major roadblock in the process, who had been convinced by the motorists who ended up in his courtroom that school bus drivers were trying to trap motorists. The headline for the front page story read “PTA Bus Crackdown Nets 26 Violators.” It was a turning point for Teton County.
- A few years later the County Sheriff realized that, while the violation reports had to go first to one of three law enforcement agencies (City Police, County Sheriff, or State Police), eventually they all ended up in the same court. He offered to be the contact point for all reports.
- A reporter passed a school bus illegally and decided to do an article about stop-arm violations for the Jackson Hole News, giving the issue some much appreciated publicity.
- Be assertive but not too aggressive. The County Sheriff said of Knowles, “He is like a terrier hanging on my pant leg. He doesn't pull hard but he doesn't let go either.”
Teton County School District 1 will continue trying to improve the process. Effective communication with law enforcement, the prosecutor, and the judge seems to be the key.
(Stop Arm Violation Enforcement)
This is one of NHTSA's four demonstration projects. In 1995 the Illinois State Police District 5 Safety Education Officer was speaking at a school bus driver regional safety meeting when he was bombarded with complaints about the less than enthusiastic response to their stop-arm violation reports. School bus drivers were filing complaints with the State's Attorney's Office who investigated and prosecuted the cases. However, these complaints were not handled effectively due to the volume of other cases perceived as more important. When cases were prosecuted, they were often plea bargained, resulting in reduced charges.
Illinois has a severe penalty for Illegal Passing of a School Bus, with a $150 fine and a three-month driver's license suspension for the first conviction with no allowance for the issuance of court supervision. A conviction is to be reported to the Secretary of State and is recorded on the driver's record. The severity of this penalty motivates violators to hire attorneys to argue a reduction of the charges to Improper Lane Usage. This charge carries only a $75 fine and the possibility of court supervision so there is no record of the violation on the driver's record.
The State Police Safety Education Officer developed a stop-arm violation form for the bus drivers to use. He soon became the clearinghouse for a majority of the stop-arm violation complaints within his district and was quickly overwhelmed. The purpose of the NHTSA grant was to expand the efforts of State Police, local police agencies, and the school bus drivers to arrest and secure effective prosecution and subsequent convictions for stop-arm violators in two towns in Will County, one urban and one rural.
The partners in this effort were:
- Illinois State Police
- Two local police agencies
- Local school districts
- Local school transportation companies
- Local prosecutor's office
Three enforcement techniques were identified:
- Police cars were equipped with bus garage radio frequencies to aid in the response to stop-arm violations.
- Plain-clothes officers in covert or personal vehicles followed school buses on selected routes identifying violators.
- School bus driver complaints were directly filed with the Illinois State Police on redesigned forms.
The education and awareness efforts (and the enforcement efforts) were conducted in three waves during a 12-month period. A media blitz was conducted prior to each of the enforcement waves. The media blitz included:
- PSAs on local radio stations during rush hours
- Public service spots on local cable channels
- Presentations at PTO meetings, village meetings, and high school events
- Presentations to Citizen Police Training Classes
Throughout the project, education and awareness presentations were made on request.
Business owners were approached and asked to display messages on their marquis boards reminding motorists to watch for school bus stop arms. A poster contest was held in one of the schools. Officers participated in a radio talk show.
- The program is preparing a comprehensive training manual for dissemination to other agencies in the state so that they may take over the arrest and prosecution of stop-arm violators within their jurisdiction.
- Although prior to this program a majority of cases prosecuted resulted in a conviction for a reduced charge or a dismissal of charges, cases tracked through this program resulted in a conviction for the stop-arm violation charge. This was achieved through the diligent work of the State's Attorneys, the conviction of the stop-arm judge, and the dedication of the bus drivers.
- Possibly the most impressive and important result of this program is the renewed interest of the bus drivers in reporting violations. The program has increased enthusiasm and the word of its success has spread to other school districts, transportation companies, and police departments.
Awareness and Education
- Education teaches more than citations do.
- People read the papers and react to the media releases.
- Business owners are happy to assist the community if you simply ask them.
- To have a successful media event, someone skilled in dealing with the media must be present.
- Message boards are not welcome in some towns and, where they are, many rules apply.
- Planning is critical; don't wait to the last minute or your efforts will flop.
- Stationary patrols in unmarked cars at hot spots can be an effective means of identifying violators.
- While a marked squad car is effective, any witness vehicle will deter stop-arm violators.
- On-site arrests reduce the number of witnesses required at court, making prosecution easier.
- Effective tracking and prosecution of bus driver complaints result in a true picture of the number of violations.
- Patrol techniques utilized by police in squad cars seldom yield a true picture of the number of violations.
- The severity of the penalty for a first conviction in Illinois results in many violators being given an opportunity to plead to a lesser charge. Without a first conviction, there is no opportunity for a stronger penalty on a second or subsequent conviction and there are no statistics to show an accurate number of stop-arm violations. If the conviction for a first stop-arm violation was revised to a fine only and a mandatory reporting to the Secretary of State, there would be a better chance of tracking an accurate number of actual violations.
Illinois State Police District 5 will continue as a “clearinghouse” for stop-arm offenses until all the police agencies within Will County come on line with the process. Training sessions, meetings, and the SAVE manual will be offered as needed.
State Directors of Pupil Transportation
The “State Director” of pupil transportation is responsible for state policies concerning pupil transportation and will be able to provide information about the state's pupil transportation program.
Helpful National Organizations
National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT)
An organization of pupil transportation professionals dedicated to promoting safety and enhancing efficiency in pupil transportation. Individuals in the transportation industry can find information about pupil transportation at this website. This is also a good resource to contact if you have school bus related questions. You can find out the latest pupil transportation news by visiting the week's top school bus stories posted on the NAPT webpage.
National Association of Governors' Highway Safety Representatives (NAGHSR)
The governors' highway safety representatives manage each state's highway safety program and serve as liaisons between their governors and the highway safety community. They also work closely with NHTSA in the administration of federal highway safety grant programs. NAGHSR's website is an excellent source of information providing countless links to highway safety-related online resources. The site also lists all State Highway Safety Offices. Contact your State office to find out about transportation safety programs in your State.
National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS)
NASDPTS provides leadership, assistance, and motivation to the nation's school transportation industry to provide high-quality, safe, and efficient transportation for pupils. The association works with many organizations at the Federal, State, and national levels that have an interest in pupil transportation. Each “State Director” is responsible for State policies concerning pupil transportation and can provide information about their State's pupil transportation program.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
NHTSA’s mission is to save lives, prevent injuries and reduce economic costs due to rad traffic crashes, through education, research, safety standards and enforcement activity. NHTSA offers information and materials on pupil transportation, bicycle, pedestrian, motorcycle, motor vehicle, impaired driving, and occupant protection issues. Parents, teachers, and students will want to visit NHTSA's website, especially "Safety City," a bright, colorful, interactive page designed to entertain and teach children about highway safety. Be sure to enter the bike tour, garage, research laboratory, art gallery, and theater to learn how fun traffic safety can be. "The Teachers Lounge," a special area for teachers, provides lesson plans and coloring books for your classroom.
National School Transportation Association (NSTA)
This national organization serves as the trade organization for school bus contractors, companies that own and operate school buses and contract with school districts to provide pupil transportation service. This resource provides safety information on the ABC's of School Busing, loading zone statistics, a school bus safety guide, and extensive information about National School Bus Safety Week. Learn what School Bus Safety Week is, its history, how you can participate, and how students can enter this year's poster contest and win prizes.
The National Safe Kids Campaign
State and local SAFE KIDS Coalitions are active in all 50 States plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. SAFE KIDS provides information and materials educating adults and children to prevent the number one killer of children: unintentional injury. The coalitions empower families and communities to protect children 14 and under. By visiting the website, you can find information on state and local coalitions, fact sheets on a variety child injury issues, the SAFE KIDS BUCKLE-UP! Program, car seat check-up events, and a resource catalog to order material.
Pupil Transportation Safety Institute (PTSI)
PTSI is a national education resource to the transportation industry. The Institute provides resources for all participants in the school transportation community. Transportation safety related materials such as coloring books, training programs, manuals, videos, books, supplies, and much more can be viewed and purchased on their website.
“Building Safe Communities” is a bimonthly newsletter designed for those involved in community-based traffic safety programs or other efforts to prevent motor vehicle, bicycle, and pedestrian injuries. You can find reports, interviews, news about prevention strategies, data collection and analysis, coalition-building, public education and communication, and fund-raising on the Safe Communities website.
Educational Development Center, Inc.
School Bus Information Council
The Council provides information about all aspects of pupil transportation and school bus safety. School bus facts, national statistics, press releases, and information on school bus safety equipment are some of the things you can find through this resource.
Governors' Highway Safety Representatives
The governors' highway safety representatives manage each State's highway safety program and serve as liaisons between their governors and the highway safety community. Their mission is to provide leadership in the development of national policy to ensure effective highway safety programs. Your State's representative is an excellent resource on many highway safety issues including occupant protection, impaired driving, speed enforcement, and motor carrier school bus, pedestrian and bicycle safety.
NHTSA Regional Offices
Search NHTSA’s 10 Regional Offices
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) 10 Regional Offices work with States and other public and private sector customers to save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce economic costs associated with traffic-related crashes. The offices provide technical assistance on traffic safety issues including bicycle, pedestrian, motor vehicle, school bus, and child passenger safety as related to school transportation. In addition the offices promote legislation, coalition building and training and provide grant program support.