By Daniel Thompson
School buses are largely safe – but until every single child gets to school and back unharmed, we have to keep innovating.
Nearly 15 students die each year in school transportation-related incidents in the U.S., with about five of those fatalities caused by passing motorists, according to The National Association for Pupil Transportation.
Although strides have been made to enhance safety inside the school bus, much can still be done outside the bus—and there’s one simple and cost-effective fix.
Unlike the gates that prevent motorists from ignoring railroad crossings, the tiny stop signs that barely protrude from the sides of most yellow school buses are not getting other vehicles to stop. In fact, the Federal Department of Transportation estimates that as many as 18 million stopping violations occur yearly.
That is why we are working to bring S.A.F.E. GATES to as many buses as we can. The four-foot-long polycarbon stop-arm attaches to the existing stop sign and extends far into the roadway—visible from about a mile away—to deter increasingly distracted motorists from passing.
In a pilot program in Alvarado, Texas, S.A.F.E. GATES stop-arms were affixed to the four buses that saw the most stop-sign violations. While local officials expected to see 320 illegal passing incidents during the 30-day test, the actual number was only six.
“My drivers that have the S.A.F.E. GATES love them,” said Terry Wood, operations manager for the Alvarado Independent School District. “Even though it hasn’t completely stopped all runners, we are still at about 95% reduction, which is huge.”
By reducing stop-arm violations by anywhere close to this rate, we can eliminate as many as 14.5 million yearly instances of a child’s life being put in danger.
Other less-effective methods have been tried. Some districts, for instance, have agreed to put cameras on school buses in order to cite motorists for stop-sign violations. The truth is, though, cameras do not stop passing vehicles, and the family of a struck child cannot be made whole by a camera that identifies a violator after the fact. We have found that a gate is guaranteed to reduce stop-arm violations and fatalities from happening year after year.
The big challenge is that, although S.A.F.E. GATES technology is federally approved to be on every bus in the U.S. (through the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) 49 CFR 571.131), most states have their own regulations, and most districts have their own equipment procurement processes. But there are no restrictions to the geographic need.
In fact, the all-weather durability of S.A.F.E. GATES is appealing from the heat of Phoenix to the bitter cold of Canada.
“We too see the huge potential for a product like S.A.F.E GATES, at least in our country, in the very infancy stages,” said Wayne Ilnisky, sales manager, GL Mobile Communications, the sole distributor of S.A.F.E. GATES in Canada (email@example.com). “This is of interest to the whole student transportation industry.”
Ilnisky says customers as well as parents are showing interest in stop-arm safety.
We ask school district leaders, school transportation managers, private sector providers of K-12 school transportation services, industry suppliers, and anyone else who is responsible for improving the safety of school buses, to “think outside the bus.”
If we are going to accomplish the Zip. Zero. Nada. None. campaign goal to eliminate school transportation-related fatalities by 2025, then we need to get creative. Achieving this ambitious milestone means we must change the behavior of motorists and enhance the safety of what is going on outside the bus. This technology provides an opportunity to save lives.
Daniel Thompson (Thomps27@comcast.net) is the founder of S.A.F.E. GATES, created out of necessity to save the lives of the most precious cargo transported today. As a former state school bus program director, he is well versed on the industry and its regulations. To view product pricing, pictures, and videos, visit www.SAFEGATES.NET.
To view a video spotlighting S.A.F.E. Gates, click here.