with red and yellow lights flashing,” she shared. “It’s just so frustrating. Some- times you feel like you’re banging your head against the wall because we can’t stop it.”

The issue’s chronic nature prompts

questions about its causes and the approaches that might eliminate viola- tions, or at least reduce them. “It comes back to the question of why

they’re passing. Do they not know the law? Do they know it and think it’s not a big deal? Do they think their chances of getting caught are slim?” asked Jim Hessel, transportation director for the School District of Cameron in north- west Wisconsin. “To solve the problem, we need to really know the reasons.” Two days before School Transporta-

tion News spoke with Hessel, a motorist in nearby Plainfield, Wisconsin, made an illegal, right-side pass of a school bus and killed a 6-year-old girl. Nemmers lamented that such trag-

edies temporarily raise consciousness about school bus stops “for a day and then, sadly, people go back to their old habits.” She said she sees an increas- ing amount of distracted driving and illegal passing incidents involving cell phone usage, particularly among young drivers. “They’re hooked to their phones. It’s

like they can’t put them down,” she added. Tom Burr, the director of transpor-

tation for Saint Paul Public Schools in Minnesota, said he finds that there are more distracted drivers of all ages than ever before. “Nationally, it seems to be on the increase,” he observed. “New cars have lights and buzzers meant to keep your eyes on the road, but there’s only so much people can mentally take in.” Meanwhile, a 7-year-old boy was

hit in St. Paul by a pickup truck while attempting to board his school bus. The school bus was reportedly stopped with its lights flashing and stop arm deployed. The child reportedly suffered bone fractures and will undergo physi- cal, speech and occupational therapy.

Hessel attributed the cause of such

incidents to “a lot of inattentive driving.” “My gut feeling is that by the time

they realize a bus is there and stopped, they’ve already passed it,” he contin- ued. “There shouldn’t be any reason for people to not know it’s stopped.” Suprisingly, not every community is

plagued by illegal passers, at least at the same rate as others. Drew Damien, di- rector of transportation with the Palmer Public School District in Massachusetts, said illegal passing incidents are fairly rare occurences in his town. “You still have to stop, no ifs, ands or buts, but I feel very lucky that we have a very small number of violators. That says something about the community,” he commented. Damien noted that its common for his bus drivers to see oncoming mo- torists not only stop but also activate their emergency flashers to alert other motorists. He also speaks with parents of kin-

dergarten students at the beginning of each school year to coach them on bus safety. He said he believes annual media publicity and the district’s routes and bus schedules contribute to the district’s success. “A lot of times, our high school buses see little traffic because they’re on quiet roads, when there’s not much traffic out, anyway,” he said. Ironically, Damien pointed out, the

largest number of violations seem to occur on school campuses. As a result, the district is exploring ways to sep- arate private vehicles and bus traffic during school pickup and dropoff. Each director interviewed for this

story emphasized the value of working with local media throughout the school year—especially at the start of the school year—to raise public awareness. Damien said he hopes to work with

the local cable television provider to develop public service announcements to complement other media outreach. Burr said his district addresses the danger with training and reminders. “Never assume that oncoming vehi- 45

How does your operation target motorists who illegally pass school buses?

76% School bus drivers manually log incidents

35% Law enforcement regularly monitors certain student stops

30% Law enforcement follows routes

21% Stop-arm video camera enforcement

21% Community outreach/education (TV, radio, billboards, PSAs, news media, etc.)

10% Law enforcement personnel sometimes rides on the buses

9% Nothing, we are powerless to stop these violations

9% Other (notify district or police dispatch)

1% I don’t know

(Out of 164 reponses to a recent reader survey. More than one answer was allowed. Total does not equal 100.)

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