Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Bus Stop Bullies

State of the art school buses are beginning to ramble down suburban streets, rural back roads and urban avenues. Push-out windows, high-visibility strobe lights, roof escape hatches, stop sign arms, cross padded high-back, flame-retardant seats and modified handrails on bus steps might make riding on a school bus safer than in the family car.

So why are more and more parents driving their kids to school instead?

“I wish we didn’t have to sit in the same seats all year,” a third grader complained.

“I don’t like that my kids have to wait for the bus in the dark,” Tallahassee, Florida mom Amy Convery said when she found out her elementary age child would have to be at the stop by 6:15 a. m. “It’s just not safe enough.”

The United States isn’t the only country wrestling with trying to get more kids to ride the bus to school. School authorities in Newport, Wales are replacing 24 double-decker school buses that were so old, vandalized and plagued by badly behaving students that drivers were refusing to drive them.

It’s hard enough keeping track of 50 kids on a regular, yellow American school bus. Can you imagine trying to monitor two floors of a double-decker?

But technology is a wonderful thing.

In New Jersey and some counties in Florida cameras have been installed above the driver in order to capture the behavior of students en route. If there’s a problem, the camera will catch it (them). Unruly behavior that distracts the driver and bullying that harasses students are caught on tape and reported directly to the school.

Does that make everyone feel safer? Not yet.

One of the greatest dangers to students traveling on a school bus isn’t the other kids on the bus or an easily annoyed driver. It’s the rest of us on the road with them who are more concerned about getting past the stopped yellow icon of American education and getting to work on time.

“Motorists not paying attention is our biggest problem and the biggest safety threat to the children we transport,” said Tom Boyd, general manager of Murphy Bus Co. in Middletown, New Jersey.

What’s the solution? More cameras.

Stop-arm cameras can now be used to capture the make, model, color and even the license plate number of a vehicle that fails to stop for a school bus. Sgt. John Sutton of the Brick Police Traffic Safety Division in New Jersey said that if a vehicle runs the red lights of a school bus and is caught on tape, they can receive 5 points on their license, a fine no less than $100 and 15 days of community service or jail time.

As extreme (and expensive) as these measures may seem, I applaud those school systems who choose to invest in the safety of the most precious cargo on our planet – our children.

Now if we could just do something about that boy who keeps putting his gum in the Jane’s red-haired pigtails! Let’s hope he gets caught on tape too.

©2006 Vicki Caruana. All rights reserved.