Q&A: REI® Talks Stop-Arm Solutions

Stop-arm violations are an incredibly critical issue for the school bus industry. We have all heard the troubling stories associated with cars not stopping for school buses with stop arms extended. Pupil transportation professionals know the situation is dire, yet it often takes a tragedy to initiate expenditure and awareness discussions between districts, law enforcement, and the public.

School BUSRide recently interviewed two industry professionals from REI® to obtain their insights and solutions pertaining to stop-arm violations. Taylor Moore, ARMOR Software Suite specialist and sales consultant, and Drew Batten, director of sales and marketing, collaborate daily with transportation departments around the country to assess districts’ needs and facilitate effective solutions to minimize their safety challenges.

Assessing and Understanding the Stop-Arm Risk

When you are talking to your district end users, are there any best practices that you recommend or advice to give them to try and prevent these issues?   

Taylor Moore

Taylor Moore: When we start working with school districts, we first try to involve the various levels of administration, law enforcement, and the public to support student safety. Viewpoints and insights from each unveil pain points and help us determine the solutions needed to mitigate incidents.

Next, we try to understand how districts can release a citation – what information they need to share with law enforcement in order to pursue a citation or litigation against a motorist. For this reason, it is important for districts to understand local and state laws regarding stop-arm violations. We can only fix the problem once we have the proper knowledge.

Drew Batten

Drew Batten: This is doubly important for the purpose of educating local stakeholders. The districts are very receptive because they understand the situation. District officials are in the field every day, and they understand how frequently these near tragedies occur. The real test comes in creating a relationship with local law enforcement and county officials and helping those parties to understand why this is such a paramount safety risk.

Moore: When we speak to our customers, we find that many districts feel a lack of resources to address the violations. In some cases, a lack of knowledge about pursuing litigation in these matters or simply because of the extraordinary amount of paperwork involved on law enforcement’s end. It really takes a concerted effort to implement a successful stop-arm solution.

Batten: Districts are reluctant to spend money, time, and energy setting up a stop-arm system if it will not be supported by partners in the community, which is an understandable position. For this reason, it is imperative for districts to collaborate with local stakeholders from the very beginning. The biggest and most important priority is protecting children, and we must ensure each segment of the community understands the challenges – from law enforcement to county officials, and to the public. 

Technology Paves a Path Forward

What solutions does REI offer to curb these violations or otherwise improve safety around the bus stop or a bus crossing?   

Batten: Our focus involves an understanding of the district’s needs, its budgetary options, and the ability to achieve community buy-in. Questions about each must be answered before we are able to recommend effective solutions. They’ll help determine how far down the technology road we can go, allowing us to tailor solutions to a district’s specific capabilities.

Moore: When assessing district needs for stop-arm safety, we typically recommend our panic-button-activated manual solution for capturing violators’ license plates. This solution utilizes a DVR and three cameras: one camera facing forward, one rear-facing camera, and an overheard camera. The front- and rear-facing cameras capture the license plates of offending vehicles, and the overhead view provides context for the district and law enforcement. 

A more advanced option is an automated stop-arm solution. Utilizing radar, artificial intelligence, and motion detection after stop arms have been extended, it captures violators’ license plates automatically. This particular solution includes a license plate recognition pod and an overview camera and is capable of recording plates across four lanes of traffic.

Batten: Districts do not need to wait for drivers to report offending motorists. The pod itself acknowledges a motion when the vehicle is at a complete stop and triggers the solution to capture the violation. A solution using this type of setup can then be integrated with additional software to help validate if a violation has occurred and if a citation is to be issued. In some instances, this process is automated, and the school district does not have to be involved.

The citation, while not enforceable on its own, helps make life easier for law enforcement. We know they’re overloaded with paperwork and our solutions aim to simplify that process, yet still provide the district with as many resources for full coverage as possible.

Knowledge is Power

During the consultation phase with customers, what steps are you taking with them as they consider adding stop-arm violation technology to their vehicles?  

Batten: It is important to remember, when consulting with technology providers, that any company can throw out a high-tech solution. At REI, we try to differentiate ourselves in the consultation process, by really listening to the needs and pain points of individual districts.

What are the common issues that the district is experiencing? Can we look to other customers to help a new one? Maybe there are other districts with which we have worked that have faced similar situations, and we can help connect them to discuss those issues. This industry is all about networking, communicating, and building off common experiences.

Moore: While budget may be an issue for some districts, there is more and more legislation coming out at the state level aiming to help curb these issues. Reimbursements, grant money, and other solutions are becoming available to help put these systems on school buses. These funds will hopefully give districts a chance to put these measures in place and be proactive in preventing incidents.

Some research shows that 99 percent of people cited for stop-arm violations do not re-offend. This is a great sign, but also a sign that we need to step up our detection and enforcement. The biggest hurdle, as we have discussed, is typically community buy-in and cooperation with law enforcement and county officials. The more we can make these stakeholders understand the problem, the easier it will be to achieve buy-in on the right technology.