In less than a week, there have been at least six accidents at bus stops across the country, leaving five children dead and others injured.
Three were killed last Tuesday in rural Indiana when a 9-year-old girl and her 6-year-old twin brothers were struck crossing the street to board their stopped bus when the oncoming driver of a pickup truck failed to stop. An 11-year-old boy was airlifted to a nearby hospital where he is in critical condition.
In Mississippi, on Wednesday, another 9-year-old was struck and killed as he crossed the road to get to the school bus. That same day in Florida a 19-year-old driver struck and injured a kindergartner crossing the street to board a bus. The 5-year-old is reportedly doing well now.
Thursday, in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, about three hours north of Carroll County, a 7-year-old was struck and killed in a hit-and-run while waiting at his school bus stop. It was the bus driver who discovered the child on the side of the road and called 911.
Police believe they have located the driver and said he seemed to be unaware that he had struck the child, despite evidence he did so at a low rate of speed.
Also on Thursday in Tampa, Florida, five children and two adults were sent to the hospital with injuries after being struck by a car at a school bus stop.
How on Earth does this happen? In most of these cases, the bus was at the stop when the collisions occurred. Not to be flippant, but did the drivers somehow miss the giant yellow bus with the flashing red lights and the “Stop” sign on the side of it?
Unfortunately, I think we know the answer. It is likely that the drivers were simply in too big of a hurry, felt inconvenienced and decided to pass the bus when it stopped, striking the children.
It’s completely selfish behavior and, as a parent of elementary school-age kids who wait at a bus stop each day, it’s unacceptable. Perhaps the irony of it all is that this deadly week at school bus stops comes on the heels of National School Bus Safety week (Oct. 22 to 26).
Passing stopped school buses illegally isn’t unusual. In an annual survey taken on a single day during the school year, 20 percent of bus drivers reported that nearly 84,000 vehicles passed their buses illegally.
Anecdotally, I know this to be true as well. As a retirement job, my mother was a school bus driver in Harford County, with a route in an area not too dissimilar from many of the rural bus routes in Carroll County, where many of the stops may involve a single rider and are spread out just enough that it can become frustrating for motorists stuck behind the bus. She tried to be cognizant of the drivers behind her, and wave them past once a child was safely on the school bus.
Inevitably, though, she would get passed by a car at least once a week on her route, if not more frequently.
The rules are simple. In Maryland, traffic must stop in both directions on any road where a bus is dropping off or picking up passengers, except four-land divided highways, such as portions of Md. 140, when only traffic following the bus must stop. Violators can be fined up to $570 and receive up to 3 points on their driver’s license for passing school buses unsafely and ignoring flashing lights.
But since police can’t follow buses at all times and bus drivers have enough going on without having to remember and write down license plate numbers of passing vehicles, some impatient drivers are willing to take the chance.
You would think not potentially killing someone’s children might be motivation enough for them to wait, but apparently not.
Two solutions immediately come to mind: The first would be equipping buses with cameras, similar to red-light or speeding cameras, that capture violator’s information and send them tickets in the mail. Research has proven red light cameras to be effective, why wouldn’t bus cameras be equally effective in changing this behavior? (And don’t give me nonsense about the right to face your accuser, if that’s the case, we should probably stop selling home security cameras too, right? We’re talking about kids’ lives here.)
The second would be for buses to have a second, lower stop arm that extends several feet into the next lane, similar to the arms at a toll booth or a railroad crossing, making it impossible for vehicles to pass without sustaining damage.
Neither of these would be cheap, although I suspect bus manufacturers could start building the lower arms onto their vehicles to make these standard issue, similar to the stop arms that did not exist a generation or two ago. Cameras would require more hoops, and maybe even local legislation.
Regardless, we need to do something to make it safer for children who just trying to get to school. If this week proves anything, it’s that some Americans are too selfish or too irresponsible to handle it themselves.
Innocent kids shouldn’t suffer or die because drivers are running late to work or whatever other excuses rationalize passing a stopped school bus.