Illegal passing of school buses continues to be a persistent problem, with a recent National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) survey of school bus drivers nationwide finding an estimated 43.5 million violations occurring over a 180-day school year. Verra Mobility sponsored a panel of safety leaders during a webinar to discuss proven strategies to fight the epidemic.
Melissa Wandall shared the story of a motorist who ran a red light in 2003, killing her husband and severely injuring her brother when she was nine months pregnant. In the aftermath, she founded the National Coalition for Safer Roads to coordinate with policymakers, community leaders and concerned citizens. She has been advocating for safer roads for over a decade.
“Roadway tragedy does not have to happen, and automated enforcement is a big part of that solution,” she told the webinar audience on Thursday.
Stating that “each statistic [from the NASDPTS study] is a human life,” she urged listeners to educate the motoring public and leverage available technology solutions like Verra Mobility’s stop arm camera enforcement program to avoid road tragedies and save children’s lives.
“Education and mindful driving change driver behavior,” she said. “We can and we must do better, especially with these tools and resources at our disposal.”
Eighty Percent Reduction
Santa Fe Independent School District in Texas has a fleet of 50 school buses, which were being passed at a rate three times the national average and twice the rate of the rest of the state.
Realizing the problem, Director of Transportation Mark McKinney outfitted 10 buses with Verra Mobility’s stop-arm enforcement system with REI video cameras.
The district has seen a reduction of illegal passing incidents by over 82 percent, starting at 160 violations per month and now seeing about 40 per month. Initially, motorists were showing up monthly to contest their citations. The numbers were soon reduced to showing up to court every few months. Today, McKinney said even fewer people are contesting per year.
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Community involvement efforts included a month of police issuing warnings before citations began, partnering with local news and sending informational cards home with students.
McKinney added that the Verra Mobility system reduces stress and allows school bus drivers to focus more on the road and on the students they are transporting, rather than be concerned with capturing violator information.
The cost of installing and managing the Verra Mobility program is funded by the motorist fines. Revenue from tickets is used for increasing school bus safety by installing child detection equipment and an AI video program. McKinney said Santa Fe doesn’t budget for these safety technology additions because revenue fluctuates based upon the number of citations issued. That is the preferred method, he added, since fewer tickets means the technology is working with children being safer as a result.
“Verra has shown their commitment to safety and we’re very pleased,” he said.
He added that the REI cameras are rugged and withstand adverse weather conditions, and any connection issues caused by over-the-road wear and tear are promptly fixed.
“They’re built to withstand what school buses go through,” confirmed Verra Mobility Sales Executive Matt Reich.
Holistically Focusing on Safety
“We are passionate about changing driver behavior through safety programs, especially when children are the at-risk parties,” emphasized Reich. He shared that Verra Mobility has over 20 years of experience in the field and 7,500 road safety camera systems deployed and active across the U.S. and Canada, providing an approach tailored to specific district needs and local regulations.
Verra Mobility provides a turnkey solution and automation so districts can spend minimal manpower while still protecting students. The system captures evidence like violators’ license plates, packages it for law enforcement, provides data for school district staff training opportunities, and promotes community involvement and education.
Reich verified that 99 percent of drivers who are issued a citation and paid the fine did not re-offend.
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McKinney noted that illegal passing violations are similar to parking tickets, so no points are added to the offender’s driving record. As a result, most motorists simply pay the fine.
Reich shared that a holistic view of safety leads the company to recommend full fleet installation rather than a small pilot program so all students are equally protected and community acceptance of the system improves. STN Editor-in-Chief Ryan Gray noted that full-fleet deployment can satisfy Diversity, Equality and Inclusivity policies.
An important first step at Santa Fe ISD, McKinney noted, was to pass a city ordinance allowing the school bus stop-arm enforcement system, as required by a Texas law that bans red light enforcement programs. If approved, stop-arm programs can only be used within the city limits where it passed. McKinney added this required the neighboring cities that Santa Fe ISD school buses also operate in to pass similar ordinances.
When implementing a community safety program like this, the panel warned of obstacles. Wandall spoke on disagreements with organizations that fight the use of camera enforcement and added that conversations with lawmakers on student safety should be prioritized. “Focus on the safety aspects and on the value of lives that are saved,” Reich advised.
Wandall and Reich emphasized that advocate involvement is crucial to connect grieving families and vulnerable students with lawmakers so they can pass the informed legislation needed to protect communities. Transparency about where the money goes is also important, Wandall added.
Watch the webinar on demand.