McKinney ISD

 

MISD Aims to Increase Bus Safety with Extended Stop Arms

Article|
Shane Mauldin|
Monday, February 1, 2016
The new, longer stop arms on some of the district’s buses extend more than six feet across the roadway, making it difficult for cars to drive by when students are loading and unloading.

The new, longer stop arms on some of the district’s buses extend more than six feet across the roadway, making it difficult for cars to drive by when students are loading and unloading.

McKinney, Texas – If there is one thing that strikes fear into the hearts of school bus drivers it’s motorists who refuse to stop. Whether it’s caused by a lack of awareness or simply a basic lack of concern for others, drivers zip past school buses all too frequently as kids are loading and unloading, oblivious to—or simply ignoring—the brilliant, red flashing lights and the bright red signs that say quite plainly to “STOP.”

By ignoring that directive, drivers break the law—and put children at serious risk. In McKinney, it’s happening about 20 times a day according to driver reports. At that rate, we can expect some 3,500 such incidents by school year’s end.

“It’s just baffling,” said Bruce Austin, a driver for Durham School Services, the company that provides bus transportation for McKinney ISD. “It’s almost like they resent us being out there. Like we’re a nuisance or something. So, [as a driver] you’re on pins and needles because you give your students the o.k. to step out, and here comes this car…and they’re coming like you’re not even sitting there. I don’t know if they literally just don’t see the lights and the sign or just don’t care.”

MISD bus with new longer stop arm extended

McKinney ISD hopes that new, longer bus stop arms on some routes will reduce the number of drivers who refuse to stop while students are loading and unloading.

Regardless of the reasons behind such behavior, McKinney ISD and Durham are taking new measures to put a stop to the problem by piloting the use of new, longer bus stop arms that extend more than 6 ft. across the roadway. It’s a strategy that is gaining traction in some of the more rural areas of the country, and McKinney ISD is believed to be the first school district in Texas to implement it. The district has explored other approaches such as bus-mounted cameras, but the legal complexity related to enforcement makes that strategy unrealistic.

Bus Safety Solutions installed the new stop arms, which cost about $1,000 each, on 10 buses that run routes in high traffic areas such as Hwy. 5 and Hwy. 380 where the most frequent offenders show up. If the measure proves effective, MISD will consider adding additional units.

Sandra Ellis has been driving buses for 20 years and faces one of those high traffic routes every day. “It’s scary on 380,” she said. “These drivers…some of them will stop. Some don’t stop.” According to Ellis, cars have routinely passed her on the left while she’s loading or unloading students, and she once watched, horrified, as a car lost control and blew past her bus on the right, narrowly missing a student.

It’s a serious problem that has long been a thorn in the side of bus drivers according to Durham General Manager Pete Chancellor. But, with the implementation of the new extended stop arms, Chancellor has already seen some improvement—although it’s nearly impossible to eliminate the issue completely.

Photo of sign on back of bus that says stop when red lights flash

State law requires motorists to stop when they approach a school bus that is loading or unloading—but not everybody does.

“I think it’s good,” said Chancellor. “I think it increases awareness for the motorists. Again, we’d love to stop it completely. But, with the feedback we’ve gotten from the drivers, a lot of them see a big difference because the extended arm is so visible. So, we’ll continue to increase awareness and get feedback to see how it goes.”

Nikki Dressel, a teacher at Webb Elementary, has witnessed the problem on her morning commute and loves the idea of extended stop arms for the buses. “On Hwy. 5, there are several buses, and that little stop sign would come out—and the cars would just keep going,” Dressel said. “There are kids loading up on the bus from the right, and it worries me because I’m always afraid that some kid’s going to dart out, and the cars are just not going to stop. So, I think that’s a great idea that they’re extending those arms out.”

Austin said that the extended arms can present a bit of a challenge on some of McKinney’s more narrow streets, but he has seen a decrease in incidents since one was installed on his bus two weeks ago. “Now, I’m not seeing any cars trying to just literally go by me because they are afraid they might extend out into traffic or run into the arm. So, I think it’s just a great idea. I’ve seen that it’s working,” he said.

Even so, Ellis continues her daily battle on 380, dutifully noting on her incident report form each time a motorist disregards the 6 ft. arm with two blinking stop signs blocking the road. “It’s helping some because they see it sticking out there. You still have some of them that will run it. Some of them will go into the turn lane, in the median to pass it. I even had a big truck go around it, but it’s helping some.”

For such offenders, Ellis has this request, “Please, pay attention to our lights. Just give it a few minutes, and we’ll let you go by. It’s not going to take that long. Please, be cautious. These kids are precious kids.”

Indeed.

So, please—just stop.

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