Illegal Passing: The Problem

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• A one-day study was conducted in September 1996 in 119 of the 131 school divisions in the State of Virginia. On that day, 3,394 Virginia motorists illegally passed a stopped school bus. Multiplying the results by a 180-day school year brings the total number of illegal passings to over 600,000 a year. Of the 3,394 total in September 1996, 187 were right-side passes, on the side of the bus students use to enter and exit. 

• In 1996, the Illinois Department of Transportation's Division of Traffic Safety conducted a probability–based sample survey of 250 school buses to estimate the total number of stop–arm violations in the tate. Drivers of 250 buses were asked to record stop–arm violations during a 41–school day time period. The survey was completed and returned by 135 drivers who reported 3,450 violations. Based on the findings, the estimated number of stop–arm violations each year in Illinois is over1,900,000, making it a major traffic safety problem.

Trying to Reduce Stop–Arm Violations

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) took note of the surveys, both its own (showing that drivers perceived illegal passing to be dangerous) and the three from the states (showing the extent of the violations). NHTSA also heard from the pupil transportation community that passing a stopped school bus with red lights flashing, illegal in all 50 states, was a serious and widespread problem. 

In response, NHTSA sponsored four demonstration programs. The intent was to show what different approaches could be taken to address the stop-arm violation problem (illegal passing of stopped school buses) and to demonstrate what worked, and what didn't work, and why. 

A brief description of each of the four demonstration programs is included in the third section of this guide: Real Life Successes. The grant to the Florida Department of Education was awarded in 1997. The grants to the Illinois State Police, the Clearwater (Florida) Police Department, and North Carolina Department of Public Instruction were awarded in September 1998.

At the same time as the surveys and demonstration projects were being conducted, a number of states and local communities also resolved to reduce the incidence of stop-arm violations. They found that it was not a simple task. 

In fact, the problem has several layers. To successfully increase stop-arm compliance, a program must address each of the three layers and the groups involved. 

#1 The law is not obeyed.
(Group involved: Motorists)

Best Practices Guide: Reducing the Illegal Passing of School Buses