Austin Independent School District announced it would begin outfitting its school buses with stop arm cameras. The cameras are intended to catch drivers who illegally pass school buses – when a bus’s stop arm is extended, a passing car will trigger the camera, which records snapshots of the vehicle and its license plate.
This technology isn’t cheap. Dallas County Schools has been the subject of criticism for spending millions more than it anticipated to outfit buses with stop arm cameras. When NBC 5 News questioned DCS President Larry Duncan in 2014 about the financial projections, he said, “One, you’re focusing on money. We have provided the student safety increase we — that we were after — and that’s the most important thing.”
The Scope of the Problem
According to Texas Transportation Code Sec. 545.066, when a school bus has stopped to load or unload students, other drivers must stop before reaching the bus and may not proceed until the bus is in motion, the bus driver signals a driver to proceed, or the bus’s stop arm and signals are turned off. Yet many motorists are either unaware of this law or choose to disregard it.
The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services conducts an annual National Stop Arm Violation Count survey. Results from 2015 show that in a single day, in a sample of 6,869 Texas school buses, 3,862 drivers illegally passed buses.
The fine for passing a stopped school bus can be as little as $300 or as much as $1,250. But there are other, more serious consequences – like striking a young pedestrian.
When drivers illegally pass a stopped school bus, it’s probably because they’re running late – they think that being delayed by 30 seconds to a minute is unacceptable. These reckless drivers may be parents themselves, not thinking about how they would feel if their own child was struck by a driver too impatient to wait for a stopped bus.
Drivers sometimes have a cognitive disconnect between what they know to be dangerous and what they actually do. Studies have shown, for example, that many people think texting while driving is dangerous, yet they do it anyway. Similarly, some drivers may believe that passing a school bus is dangerous only when other drivers do it.
In just a few seconds, a child can walk off a school bus, round the front end of the bus, and step into traffic. Drivers who attempt to speed past a bus put children in grave danger. Is shaving 30 seconds off a morning commute worth the risk of possibly killing a child, ruining a family’s life, and spending the rest of one’s days living with horrifying regret?
Stop arm cameras may help catch many drivers who disregard the law, and fines may be able to reduce the number of drivers illegally passing buses. Ultimately, drivers will simply need to care more about how their actions impact others and understand that they could be involved in a worst-case scenario if they ignore the law. Slowing down and being patient can help ensure that children arrive at their destinations safely.