All School Buses Need Traffic Cameras

Walter Rhein by Austin Pacheco on Unsplash

A school bus stops outside my window every day at just after 4PM. Almost without fail, at least one car ignores the flashing stop sign that flips out when the bus comes to a halt.

Sometimes you see vehicles speed up and pass as they notice the bus as if they’re fearful of getting trapped behind it when it stops. It is absolutely infuriating to witness, as it’s a deliberate action that puts a child’s safety at risk.

There are far too many stories in our country of children getting involved in accidents as they step off the school bus. Although the number of fatalities are terrible, that number does not include the incidents of near-misses. But there’s a simple solution to making our streets safer for our kids, simply put a traffic camera on every single school bus. Motorists will soon be trained to show a little more respect for human life.

The rule needs to be enforced

If there’s one thing that Coronavirus has demonstrated, it’s that Americans won’t do something just because it is the right thing to do. In order to make any progress changing social behavior, there have to be dire consequences for a transgression.

There is absolutely no reason that our society should tolerate reckless motorists who murder children because they can’t be bothered to stop for a school bus stop sign. The problem is that school bus drivers see dozens of violations yet they lack the authority to do anything about it.

Drivers have been effectively trained not to perceive the school bus stop sign as a legitimate traffic sign. After all, when was the last time you heard of a motorist receiving a ticket because s/he failed to obey a school bus stop sign?

Cameras would make a difference

I would prefer that every single school bus in the nation had a traffic camera, but there could be a dramatic increase in safety if motorists in all states understood any bus could potentially be equipped.

Currently, buses in Idaho, Indiana, Maine, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Utah have cameras. In some cases, the funds generated from the fines are distributed, in some percentage, to the local school district.

Therefore, in addition to saving lives, flip arm cameras represent a means of funding school districts.

The entitled attitude of American motorists

There needs to be a massive shift in the attitude of American motorists. Far too many motorists feel that stopping for a school bus, or slowing down for a pedestrian or cyclist, represents an affront to their personal autonomy. They allow themselves to become infuriated, and that leads to unnecessary aggression, which results in unsafe driving practices.

To make matters worse, these motorists become vocal about their annoyance with certain groups. This attitude must not be tolerated. Some groups are even involved in advocacy against school bus cameras.

School bus stop-arm cameras are another of the photo-based traffic enforcement “solutions” looking for a problem. These systems employ cameras mounted on the exterior of school buses to record alleged passing violations of stopped school buses that are loading or unloading children. Supporters play upon the strong emotions elicited by the prospects of school children put at risk by negligent motorists, and they imply the cameras will save countless lives. The truth is far different. — National Motorists Association

The National Motorists Association seems to be adopting the attitude that there are currently an “acceptable” number of school bus related deaths. However, this perspective fails to recognize that stricter enforcement would condition drivers to adopt safer driving practices in a variety of circumstances.

Although the total number of school bus related deaths is comparable to the number of school children who die in mass shootings, it falls into the category of a circumstance that would be easy to control.

Keep in mind, too, that the current yearly average of school bus related injuries is far too high to be acceptable. Motorists complaining about school bus cameras apparently believe they should be allowed to blaze through a school bus stop sign. It’s a completely indefensible argument. If they don’t want a ticket, they can simply obey the rule.

Change school bus lights

Another thing that would have a massive impact would be to change the lights of a school bus from flashing red to flashing red and blue. Although motorists do not necessarily adjust their speed at the sight of flashing red lights, they instinctively slow at the sight of red and blue.

If school buses are granted the authority to issue a ticket, why not designate them as de facto police vehicles?

Change the behavior of motorists

Drivers need to be fearful of tickets. In the best case scenario, motorists would eventually be trained to recognize school bus routes and avoid them entirely.

As a society, we cannot allow individuals to grumble when we enact legislation designed to protect the safety and well-being of our children. What kind of person gets angry about instituting legislation that can help reduce the annual number of deaths and serious injuries?

Motorists must be trained to recognize that school buses are an absolute authority. The cameras must be set to issue tickets in response to minimal transgressions so that motorists come to fear them and stop at an appropriate distance.

It’s a simple solution

Technological tools like flip arm cameras for school buses always seem to have a astronomical price tag. However, installing even a few cameras nationwide would make a huge impact, and more cameras could be purchased as they started generating revenue.

At some point along the way, American drivers have placed their own selfish interests above those of the people with whom they share the road. This attitude has to be corrected. The next time you open up a paper to read about a child that was run over after getting off a school bus, take a moment to reflect on how needless and senseless a tragedy that is. There’s no reason that any child should ever be killed or injured when stepping off a bus.

We have the tools necessary to change this behavior. We should use them.

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI

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