Iowa Study Probes Stop-Arm School Bus Safety Measures

A new Iowa report, required by last year’s ‘Kadyn’s Law,’ analyzes ways to potentially reduce the illegal passing of school buses, including stop-arm cameras.

DES MOINES, Iowa — A new Iowa report, required by last year’s “Kadyn’s Law,” analyzes ways to potentially reduce the illegal passing of school buses, including stop-arm cameras.

State officials said that the study, conducted by researchers at Iowa State University and the University of Iowa, confirms the exemplary safety record of school bus transportation but sheds light on further efforts that could help prevent loading and unloading accidents.

“This report states that parents should be encouraged to have their children ride the bus to and from school because buses are one of the safest forms of transportation available,” said Steve Gent, director of the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Office of Traffic and Safety. “Yet the safety of our children is still a real concern, primarily due to vehicles illegally passing stopped school buses.”

Max Christensen, the Iowa Department of Education’s state director of school transportation, added that “ensuring the safety of Iowa’s schoolchildren is a top priority for this department and for all of Iowa schools and districts. Taking actions at the local level, such as evaluating the feasibility of home-side loading/unloading of students and working with area law enforcement agencies, is essential.”

The study addressed three specific safety elements:

1. Use of school bus stop-arm cameras to enhance safety and aid in enforcement of motor vehicle laws pertaining to stop-arm violations.

2. The feasibility of requiring schoolchildren to be picked up and dropped off on the side of the road on which their homes are located.

3. Inclusion of school bus safety as a priority in general driver training curriculum.

Twenty Iowa school districts confirmed that they are currently using stop-arm cameras as a deterrent. The researchers found that the cameras do aid in the enforcement of motor vehicle laws and enhance safety if there is an effective and sustainable process to turn a camera image into a traffic citation and ultimately a court conviction.

Although Kadyn’s Law imposes a mandatory minimum fine of $250 for the first offense, records show that 65% of fines imposed between Aug. 15 and Oct. 31, 2012, were less than the minimum. But the researchers said that enhanced awareness within the judicial system of the Kadyn’s Law changes should result in increased compliance.

To evaluate the impact of potentially requiring home-side loading for all stops, the research team worked with a school district, revising an urban route and a rural route to comply with home-side loading.

As a result, 33 more bus stops were added to the urban route and 17 more miles of travel were added to the rural route. The researchers found that the home-side loading requirement would increase the annual costs of the urban route by $8,000 and the rural route by $24,000.

“Home-side loading has the potential to affect the cost per pupil transported significantly without a defined quantifiable benefit to justify these costs,” the researchers said in the study. “Looking forward, districts should continue to be encouraged to consider home-side loading as a matter of best practice and discretion and stop short of a specific requirement.”

The study also noted that installation of a second stop arm at the rear of the bus is a low-cost solution that enhances safety by increasing visibility for vehicles approaching from the rear. Some Iowa school districts currently have second stop arms on their buses.

To view the full report, click here.

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Thomas McMahon is the executive director of School Bus Fleet magazine.

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