More than 800 vehicles fail to stop in five weeks; pending bill would allow for cameras and ticketing
The Peabody Public Schools and safety technology company BusPatrol unveiled the findings of Massachusetts’ first stop-arm camera pilot program yesterday at Peabody’s Higgins Middle School. The results showed a disturbing trend of over three illegal passings per bus per day.
From Sept. 1 to Oct. 10, Peabody outfitted 10 school buses with stop-arm cameras. They recorded 865 vehicles illegally passing the buses that were stopped to pick up or drop off students. This is equal to 3.6 violations per bus per day.
The study coincides with this year’s National School Bus Safety Week that ends today and looks to raise awareness about the dangers students face as they travel to and from school in the United States.
In Tewksbury earlier this month, a student was struck driver who passed a school bus. Fortunately, the child was not seriously injured, but this is a problem across the state. A bill has been filed to allow Massachusetts municipalities to add school bus safety cameras. The Tewksbury delegation did not respond to an inquiry on whether they support the proposal.
“There’s really no excuse for someone to pass a stopped school bus,” said Maria Scheri, founder of the S.T.O.P The Operator from Passing group and co-chair of the School Safety Task Force. “There are yellow warning signals that the bus is about to stop, red flashing lights and a stop sign. It literally says ‘unlawful to pass’ on the back of the bus. The important work we are doing in Peabody, capturing data of illegal school bus passing violations, is to show our lawmakers, the media and communities across the state the danger that kids are in when they need to cross the street to get on and off their school bus. Drivers need to be held accountable.”
Unfortunately, there are not enough law enforcement officers to follow every school bus two or three times a day in each school district.
“Massachusetts needs to embrace the bus stop arm camera technology to enforce the law as 25 other states are doing,” said Scheri. “There really should be no opposition to wanting to save a kid from getting injured or killed by someone who is unlawfully passing their stopped school bus.”
The most dangerous week in the study was the first full week of school, Sept. 11 to 15, with 184 violations recorded in just five days and a violation rate of 3.8 per bus per day.
Karoon Monfared, CEO of BusPatrol, called on the local community to take action.
“It’s a disturbing reality that school buses are being passed almost four times per bus per day,” said Monfared. “This is one of the highest violation rates that we’ve seen in the country. It takes an average of 30 seconds to stop behind a bus and allow a child to get on or off safely. We join with Peabody Public Schools, parents and educators across the state in calling for common sense legislation to protect our children from the rise of reckless motorist behavior.”
Under current Mass. law, Peabody is unable to leverage photo enforcement technology to ticket motorists failing to stop for the school bus. The district hopes the findings from this stop-arm survey will serve as a compelling case for passing laws that allow for more effective enforcement measures in Massachusetts.
The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services estimates that school buses in the United States are illegally passed 43.5 million times each year. Several states have recently passed laws supporting stop-arm camera technology, including Florida, Delaware, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania.
The Peabody Pilot Program was a no-cost trial program sponsored by BusPatrol to assess the extent of the problem of illegal passing in Massachusetts. A company spokesperson told the Carnation that the aim is to bring greater awareness to the dangers of illegal passing and advocate for better legislation and technology to improve school bus safety for young children.
In other states where the BusPatrol technology is used, it’s funded through fines paid by violators. If a vehicle illegally passes a bus equipped with a stop-arm camera, the cameras record the incident and the vehicle license plate number. This footage is compiled into an evidence package for review by local law enforcement, which decides whether a violation has taken place.
If the incident is deemed a violation, a notice of violation, as well as a link to review the evidence, is mailed to the offending vehicle’s owner. In most states, penalties for a violation recorded by a stop-arm camera range from $250 to $400.