Make school bus boarding safer

The numbers are staggering when you consider how many vehicles reportedly ignore school bus stop arms daily.

The Indiana Department of Education conducts a one-day count each year to track violations. On April 24, 3,082 stop arm violations were voluntarily reported by 201 districts across the state. Multiply the number of violations by 180 school days and it’s estimated that the number of stop arm violations for the school year would be 554,760, according to a story by the Terre Haute Tribune-Star.

A year earlier the number of violations reported by 145 districts for the one-day count was 2,280.

On Oct. 30 near Rochester a driver killed three children as they tried to board their school bus with its stop arm out on a rural highway.

In Seymour, the number of stop arm violations this school year has already reached 150, which is on pace to top the 320 stop arm violations reported in 2017-18. During their 2016-17 school year there were 250 stop arm violations.

Tim Fosbrink, director of transportation for Seymour Community Schools, can give motorists 4,500 reasons to remain alert and attentive while driving around the corporation’s school buses. That’s the number of students who ride the corporation’s buses back and forth from home to school each day.

Their safety is the main reason the corporation is on board with a Seymour Police Department initiative to put officers on those buses to look for distracted motorists, he said. That initiative began in late summer of 2017.

Fosbrink said the state’s one-day count could be improved because on the day of this year’s count, Seymour had just two stop arm violations. The next day their were six.

While their hasn’t been a child struck in many years there have been some near misses, he said.

State law requires all drivers to stop when a school bus has its stop arm extended. The only exception is on a road or highway that is divided by a barrier or median. In that case, only vehicles traveling in the same direction as the bus are required to stop.

Some school buses are equipped with two video cameras — one pointed forward and the other pointed in the opposite direction. If the camera happens to capture a vehicle’s license plate — or an image of the driver — a report can be forwarded to local police who can contact the driver. But not all buses have those cameras.

At least one state representative said he was already working on legislation requiring exterior cameras on school buses before the tragedy in Rochester occurred. Lawmakers and school corporations across the state should work together to make that legislation happen.

A state senator is working to advance a bill that would facilitate misdemeanor charges against drivers who commit stop arm violations and make it easier to hold people accountable.

Relocating school bus stops from busy streets or highways to less traveled neighborhood streets when possible is another measure that can be taken.

All of these, including tougher enforcement by local police, are steps that could improve student safety. But they’re also no guarantee.

The most effective way to improve safety is by educating drivers that ignoring a school bus stop arm is not only against the law, but potentially deadly.