Saving child's life worth bus-camera cost

After an 11-year-old Wyoming girl was killed by a pickup truck illegally passing her school bus even as its red lights were flashing, that state in 2014 became the first in the nation to mandate all public school buses be equipped with cameras designed to catch such scofflaws.

Thankfully, the number of such tragedies is low nationwide. The same cannot be said about the risk, however. Surveys conducted in a variety of communities and states over at least 20 years show children who ride school buses face significant risk daily. Despite this risk and the fact Connecticut is one of more than a dozen states that in recent years authorized the use of cameras on school buses, many buses in the region continue on their daily rounds with no cameras to help deter the illegal passing that can have potentially deadly consequences for children.

Every state requires drivers both following and approaching a school bus from the opposite direction to stop when the bus’s red lights are flashing and an arm with a Stop sign extends. Buses also are equipped with yellow warning flashers to provide drivers notice the bus is about to stop to pick up or drop off children.

Yet bus drivers report that on an alarmingly regular basis, they witness drivers illegally passing them on the left and even the right side. They also report oncoming vehicles failing to stop. The anecdotal evidence is supported by some staggering data. The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services in 2014 surveyed more than 97,000 school bus drivers in 29 states, finding an estimated 76,000 vehicles illegally passed school buses on any given day. The Washington Post reported in July 2015 that 236 drivers in the D.C. suburb of Arlington, Virginia were cited for illegally passing a school bus in the previous school year, while bus drivers themselves reported witnessing illegal passing every day.

Closer to home, a western Massachusetts television news team reported in 2015 that more than 10,000 drivers in that state between 2013 and 2014 received motor vehicle registry warning letters after they were seen illegally passing a stopped school bus.

In southeastern Connecticut, some districts have equipped their buses with cameras, a decision for which they should be applauded. East Lyme and Groton, for example, have interior cameras on buses that also record information within a limited distance on the outside of the bus. These cameras, however, may at times not have the precise aim and focus necessary to record a clear picture of the license plate of an illegally passing car. That’s why Groton is one district now testing whether to also equip buses with cameras attached to the Stop signs that extend on an arm when buses halt for pickups and drop offs. These types of cameras are designed specifically to catch drivers who ignore, or are too distracted to notice, the bus’s flashing lights.

Other school districts in the region, however, have no cameras at all and are not yet discussing the possibility of outfitting their buses with them. As the number of distracted, frazzled and impatient drivers on the road seems always to be on the rise, this bus feature aimed at protecting children is something all districts must consider.

Wyoming provided grants for school districts to install the cameras. While Connecticut’s continued budget woes may rule out this possibility, perhaps camera installation could be negotiated into school bus contracts in districts that use private bus contractors. Another possible solution would be using the fines collected from drivers who illegally pass buses to reimburse or at least provide an incentive to districts to install the cameras. Connecticut does impose hefty fines of nearly $500 for illegally passing a stopped school bus, but of course this applies only to those who are caught.

The threat of those large fines has not been enough to prevent drivers from flying by school buses illegally, perhaps because drivers realize they are infrequently caught. Exterior bus cameras could prove a more effective deterrent because illegal passers would more assuredly pay for their actions. Even adding the cameras to some buses as a start will help, because drivers will not know which buses are outfitted with cameras and will have to assume they all are.

A child exiting or entering a school bus is no match for a speeding, illegally passing vehicle. School districts should consider installing exterior bus cameras as an effective tool aimed at preventing a tragedy and the state should explore ways to help them pay for it.

 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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