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Our View: Use all available technology to keep school buses safe

At the most recent meeting of the Carroll County Board of Education, the school system discussed those big, yellow vehicles used to transport students to and from school. Specifically, Carroll County Public Schools is looking at live GPS tracking of buses and better communication technology with drivers in hopes to improve emergency readiness and is working with the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office to add stop-arm cameras to be able to catch drivers who illegally blow past buses’ stop signs.

We support the GPS initiative. And improved communication. And, absolutely, cameras to record the dangerous driving that goes on around buses.

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GPS, or global positioning system, units on buses would allow the school system to know exactly where every bus is in real time. This would help them get word out if a bus is late, stopped somewhere or going in a direction it shouldn’t be. Down the line, it could lead to an app for parents to be able track the progress of the bus and help kids avoid standing out in the rain or 20-degree temperatures, excessively waiting.

More important is the communication system that was discussed. Currently, cell phone is the primary way to contact drivers and this if far from ideal. In case you haven’t noticed, there are plenty of areas in Carroll County with little to no cell service. Also, it is illegal for bus drivers to answer the phone while driving, so they must find a location to safely pull over before answering. And communication is merely one-to-one. “So if we have a major issue going on at a school or a weather incident in a certain part of the county, we can’t communicate effectively with groups of buses,” Mike Hardesty, director of transportation for CCPS, said.

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They are considering options, including a tablet system attached to a push-to-talk radio or a two-way radio system that would allow contact with many buses at once.

Perhaps most important is the possibility of putting cameras on the outer stop signs on buses that extend when students are getting on or off. Too many vehicles ignore these stop signs and adding stop-arm cameras would record “fly-by” drivers who fail to stop while buses are loading and unloading students. Fining them and publicizing their dangerous driving will deter the behavior.

Technology is never cheap. But the cost of the installation and equipment for the stop-arm cameras might not be an issue — it was stated at the meeting that it could be covered through fines paid by violators. The Sheriff’s Office will bring the program before the Board of County Commissioners and, if approved, stop-arm cameras could be installed as early as April. The GPS technology could also be funded through this avenue if if it goes forward this spring.

The Sheriff’s Office, through school resource officers, keeps students safe inside schools. But, statistically, students are in more danger coming or going to school.

Just last month, Montgomery County students were hit on consecutive days, one killed, one sustaining life-threatening injuries. Last school year, a Harford County student was killed while running to catch a school bus. Based on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, there were 3,000 injuries to school bus passengers in 2017.

Transportation Services told Carroll’s Board of Education there had been a 22% drop in preventable accidents. That’s certainly good news. But accidents can happen at anytime. Case in point? There were two accidents involving buses on the final day of school before winter break.

During the Maryland State Department of Education’s annual one-day survey in 2019, bus drivers counted 113 violations by drivers in Carroll County. That’s in just one day. That there hasn’t been a tragedy in Carroll is mere luck. All available technology should be used to ensure that lucky streak continues.

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