McKINNEY (Feb. 1, 2016) — 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.”
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 feet 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 State Highway 5 and U.S. Highway 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 runs one of those high traffic routes. “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.
“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.”
So, please – just stop.
For additional information on McKinney ISD, contact Shane Mauldin, MISD Communications Coordinator, at 469-302-4007 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About McKinney ISD
One of the fastest growing school districts in Texas, the McKinney Independent School District currently enrolls more than 24,750 students in 20 elementary schools, five middle schools, three high schools, four alternative schools and one early childhood education school. The mission of McKinney ISD, the champion for progressive learning throughout the diverse McKinney community, is to inspire and equip all students to explore, develop and express their unique potential as innovators, critical thinkers and collaborators through challenging, engaging and diverse learning experiences in vital partnership with the community. Visit the district's website at mckinneyisd.net.