New Iowa report highlights danger of vehicles passing school buses

New safety elements include cameras, pickup and dropoff locations, driver training

A new study shows that failure to obey stop arms is still a concern in Iowa but enforcement remains an issue.

Results from the School Bus Safety Study, performed by researchers from the University of Iowa and Iowa State University, show that 65 percent of fines resulting from stop-arm violations between Aug. 15 and Oct. 31, 2012 were assessed below $250, the minimum level mandated by the newly implemented Kadyn’s Law.

Max Christensen, director of school transportation for the Iowa Department of Education, attributed the violations to driver distraction and a lack of awareness.

“If you’re paying attention to what you’re doing, I don’t know how you could miss a yellow school bus with a stop arm,” he said. “I think a lot of people don’t realize they’re supposed to stop even though there’s a stop arm sticking out there.”

The Iowa Department of Education and Iowa Department of Transportation released results of the study, which was a piece of Kadyn’s law, on Friday. Researchers investigated whether stop-arm cameras, which 20 state districts reported using, were an effective deterrent for people passing stopped buses.

The results showed that while stop-arm cameras do aid in “verifying violations,” Christensen noted that’s often too late to affect change.

“It’s happening after the fact. We may [already] have a dead child in the road even if its captured on camera,” he said. “We need to educate the general public on what to do if they see a stopped bus so they’re not passing that bus in the first place.”

In addition, the study noted that cameras can create a “laborious” enforcement process for bus drivers, districts and local law enforcement. The Mid-Prairie, Monticello and Washington, Iowa school districts all reported using stop-arm cameras. The report concludes that treating stop-arm camera violations more like red-light camera violations could improve safety.

Researchers also explored home-side loading, in which routes are changed so that students do not have to cross the street to get on or off school buses, as a means of increasing safety. Ultimately, data showed that the practice should be encouraged by not mandated due to the increased costs.

According to the study, an additional stop arm on the back left side of school buses, and illustrations in driver training materials, also could boost safety.

Steve Gent, Iowa Director of the Office of Traffic and Safety, said ultimately he hopes districts can implement the study’s findings in ways appropriate to their specific needs.

“I think each district just needs to make their own decision. They know what issues they’ve got,” he said. “The question is what do they think they need to do to make it safer based on their own local experience of their routes.”

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