Stop Arm Camera Study

Stop Arm Camera Study Summary
Spencer Community School District
Compiled by Dan L. Schultz, Transportation Supervisor, 2000 - 2006

The Danger Zone is the entire area around a bus. In this area there are 33 school-age fatalities per year on average, according to NHTSA. Over half of these children are killed getting on or off the bus, not as passengers. During the 2000 - 2001 school year 22 school-aged children died inside the Danger Zone nationwide, most being hit by a passing motorist.

NHTSA National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says buses are the safest vehicles on the roads – 70 times safer than cars, light trucks, and vans. They’re built to a higher standard than passenger vehicles and the fatality rate for the school bus is incredibly low. NHTSA reports 0.2% occupant fatalities for every 100 million miles traveled by school buses, much lower than the rate for cars – 1.5% fatalities for the same distance.

Failure to stop when stop arms are out has been proven to be one of the most dangerous points in busing students. Of all deaths involving school buses, more than half are around school buses not in them. We must improve these accidents outside the bus. Of all the deaths involving a school bus these are the most preventable. To stop and stay stopped at the stop arm will save lives, and all people have to do is follow the law.

To have police officers follow all buses in the state of Iowa and chase down each offender is unrealistic, yet some would say that this is the only way to issue a violation to individuals who break the law and come close to killing children every day. The following summarizes a study in improving communication and helping authorities prosecute offenders.

This study revealed the daunting task bus drivers and school officials have put on the authorities. Some of the tapes identified potential hazards other than just stop arm violation. For instance, we had one individual whose medication did not allow him to walk let alone drive a vehicle and another who had avoided previous stop arm violations by saying the bus driver had entrapped him/her, but the individual was shown the violations on video tape and then pled guilty.

The Stop Arm Study Program consisted of Spencer CSD placing a camera and a video recorder on a bus linking this to the indicator lights to monitor the bus on a route for a 6-month period of time. The bus that was chosen for this study was a bus that carried preschool children ages 3-4. These children were considered the most in peril because they have a hard time following instructions and sometimes act on impulse. This bus also had a long history of stop arm violations.

The first benefit gained by participating in the program was the most important: better communication with authorities. Before this program the authorities had their reservation on issuing tickets because they did not know if the driver of the bus was following the law and not entrapping people. Officers viewing the tape of multiple cases solved this problem. Bus drivers also feel more comfortable calling in accident scenes and other problems on the road.

The second benefit was aiding the police with a better description of the vehicle in question. The bus driver would concentrate only on the license plate, reading it out loud to be recorded. Then he would bring the video in and play it back getting all details of the vehicle while trying to get a description of the driver.

The third benefit was more public awareness; the local newspaper and 3 radio stations published interviews and announcements for the transportation department. This led to a noticeable decline in violations. When the school noticed multiple violations being issued, an interview was setup with newspaper and radio stations and immediately thereafter violations would cease for a few weeks before starting up again.

The fourth benefit was identifying route and stop improvements. The first time the bus driver and supervisor viewed the tape, they made recommendations for moving some stop farther from corners to give more notice to vehicles and the supervisor gave the bus driver pointers to help traffic flow prior to stopping.

The fifth benefit was using the system to evaluate drivers’ abilities and compliance with laws. This system also would be useful as an accident investigation tool. I see this as a way to solve the issues like the bus crash in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2001 where the driver said a vehicle ran him off the road.

The system did not meet all expectations in some other ways. One of these was the quality of picture was not good enough. It was also hard to focus or set time and date without a display screen. These problems could possibly be solved by equipment improvements.

Also there was a strain put on law enforcement having to investigate many stop arm violations, taking time out of an already pressing day.

Suggestions for others participating in this program would be first bring the authorities in before applying for the program entrance, explaining that you want to open lines of communication and explain the benefits the community will gain. The cornerstone is still their investigation, and without open-minded individuals the program won’t have any affect. You cannot force the issue as this will only make matters worse.

A very good VCR player is a must with clear slow motion in forward and reverse modes. This also will help with identification. Multiple VCR tapes will be used. When a tape catches a violation, you will have to retain the evidence for many months until the trial date arrives. We used forty tapes in six months.

This program has been a great success and I fully recommend it. I would like to see every school district have a camera mounted facing forward not only looking back. If we only look back we can only change after a child’s life is lost and one child would be too many in my opinion. The program's intentions were not completely met, but they still exceeded my expectations in many new ways. Putting a system to use like this would only benefit the industry and public safety. This program will surely save a life one-day if it would only be continued and expanded.