Letter to the Editor: Motorists are illegally passing stopped school buses at epidemic levels

Dear Editor,

       41.8 million violations throughout a 180-day school year, in fact.

       According to the 2022 survey conducted by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, America’s motoring public are illegally passing school buses at “epidemic levels.”

       Four Massachusetts children were struck by motorists who failed to stop for the bus in 2014, 2021 & 2022. Violations are increasing at an alarmingly rapid rate and motorists are not only endangering the lives of children, they are getting away with it.

       It’s the law to stop for a school bus on both sides of the road when the red lights are flashing. When the yellow lights flash, drivers need to slow down and prepare to stop.

       This is one of the first rules of the road we learn in driving school. Children are taught and should be able to expect that cars will stop for them so they can safely get on or off the bus and also cross the street.

       This is my child’s first year taking the bus. I had no idea motorists were ignoring this law until I saw it for myself. I did some research and realized that unless you are driving a school bus, or actively involved in combating the problem, people have no idea how bad the situation is.

       I also discovered there are multiple bills “concerning the safety of school children embarking and disembarking school buses” that can be found on MAlegislature.gov and that for 11 years, the Massachusetts State Legislature has failed to pass a bill that will authorize the use of a camera system to capture live video imaging of vehicles illegally passing the school bus and would therefore enforce the law by issuing a citation in the mail.

        Red flashing lights and the extended stop sign indicate the school bus has stopped to let students on or off.

        I’ve been researching this “bus stop-arm camera” program and learned that technology companies can provide the cameras and implement the program with no up-front cost to the state. Some are also finding that this type of video monitoring not only enforces the law but also reduces the number of repeat offenses by 98%. (STREETSBLOG 9/13/22).

        “At least 24 states have school bus stop-arm camera laws,” says the National Conference of State Legislatures.

        Technology exists, our lawmakers are aware of the problem, they can amend existing laws to work around any obstacle and yet they continue to kick this can down the road.

        I’ve heard privacy is a concern. Since when does the privacy of someone endangering children’s lives outweigh protecting them?

        I’ve been told that it takes a long time to pass a bill. While the clock is ticking, kids are getting hit by cars and drivers are getting worse. How many kids need to get hurt or killed before anything is done?

        Why isn’t there a massive “Stop for the bus” or “Don’t hit a kid” awareness campaign from the state? Is “minding the plows” more important than our children? Bus companies welcome the technology. Mark Healey, owner of Healey Bus Company says, “Keeping the kids safe is our number one priority. Every day we talk to our drivers about safety, we provide safety education classes regularly and we are doing everything that we are supposed to be doing to keep the children safe, but we need the public to do their part too.”

        This mom is doing her part. I am making some noise and talking to anyone who will listen. I also started an online petition urging the MA Legislature to pass the School Bus Stop-Arm Camera bill into law.

        This is a no-brainer folks – put the cameras on the outside of the buses, issue citations and reduce the number of repeat violations – all with no upfront costs to the state and taxpayers – to save kid’s lives.

        To support this initiative, please visit https://www.change.org/stopschoolbuspassing

       To voice your support, call the leader in your district and urge them to pass the School Bus Stop-Arm Camera law. Their information can be found on https://malegislature.gov/Legislators/Leadership

Maria Scheri Peabody, MA

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