A lot of effort and money go into making stopped school buses as eye-catching as possible to drivers of other vehicles. They’re painted a unique high-visibility color, National School Bus Glossy Yellow. Large lights in front and back flash prominently. An arm with a stop sign swings out from the bus on the traffic side. And still drivers illegally pass buses loading and discharging students, putting them in danger.
A pupil transportation association survey gathered 74,421 reports of such illegal passing in 2016. Since many, maybe most, incidents aren’t reported, the number of drivers ignoring or not seeing buses is surely much higher.
The issue came to the fore in the region early last month when a 14-year-old girl was struck by a vehicle passing a stopped school bus and seriously injured in Upper Township.
Drivers doing this face a pretty stiff penalty of 15 days in jail or community service, five points on their license and a fine of at least $100 — but only if they’re caught and convicted.
Legislative proposals to require that the stop-sign arms of school buses be equipped with cameras to record violations haven’t been enacted.
But a bill authorizing school districts and municipalities to install and use such systems — sponsored primarily by Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, and Sen. James Holzapfel, R-Ocean — was passed by the Senate 30 to 1 on Jan. 23. An Assembly committee is considering it.
The bill would increase the driver’s fine to $300 to $500, with money collected to be used for general municipal and school district purposes.
The amount could add up. There are about 400 convictions annually in the state for passing a school bus, according to the Administrative Office of the Courts. With the use of cameras, presumably there would be many more.
This is a good idea, even though the number of fatalities from this infraction is very small. Nationwide, drivers illegally passing killed just three students in 2014 and one each in 2015 and 2016. Last year by comparison, three students died after being hit by school buses.
As the Upper Township tragedy suggests, there are many more accidents and injuries, and the camera bill would help reduce them.
There’s another benefit. Frankly, too many drivers are in too much of a hurry, causing accidents and problems of many kinds. These days, far too many drivers aren’t paying enough attention to the road, distracted by their smartphones and auto electronics. Last month AAA Mid-Atlantic said “distracted driving remains a large factor” in fatalities and should be as socially unacceptable as drunken driving.
Surer apprehension and more severe penalties for the egregiously unsafe passing of school buses would strengthen the incentive some drivers apparently need to operate their vehicles responsibly. With highway fatalities of pedestrians and bicyclists rising alarmingly, that would be a very good thing. The Assembly should pass the bill, the governor should sign it, and towns and school districts should implement it.