Safe Student Florida is in the initial stages of writing legislation language to make school bus stops safer. Across the nation, motorists blow through the flashing lights and stop signs deployed by school buses at bus stops, endangering students who are boarding and disembarking school buses. Legislation filed for the 2020 Florida legislative session moves the ball down the field in terms of stiffening penalties for school bus stop arm violations, but there remain tremendous gaps in enforcement. Without effective and consistent enforcement, fines and penalties are irrelevant.
Safe Student Florida believes that part of the problem is with the criteria itself in that it describes scenarios where vehicles must stop and, by inference, scenarios where they aren’t required to stop. For instance, the law requires motorists approaching bus stops to stop in both directions on multi-lane roads and on divided highways that are separated by an unpaved space of less than 5 feet in width. However, vehicles approaching bus stops from the front are not required to stop on divided highways when the roadways are separated by a physical barrier or by a space of at least 5 feet in width. Although the decision-making options posed by that language aren’t complex in and of themselves, we can see how indecisiveness in the moment could lead to violations and endanger students. That confusion isn’t necessary.
Improving student safety at bus stops might therefore begin with eliminating unnecessary confusion by ensuring that school bus stop scenarios covered by the law are inherently sensible and safe.
A 2019 survey of Florida’s school district directors of transportation revealed that none of the respondents permit non-doorside bus stops on 4-lane roadways which would mean that the confusing language regarding divided highways isn’t relevant to Florida bus stops. Changing the language in the law to reflect the scenarios actually presented at Florida school bus stops makes sense and would reduce confusion.
To that end, an improvement to the bus stop law and student safety might begin with ensuring that the bus stops themselves are safer by requiring students to be boarded and discharged on the side of the road where their homes are located on major multi-lane roadways.
Second, in recent years, there has been some interest in permitting school districts to utilize school bus stop arm cameras to aid in enforcing the law. However, these efforts have failed to gain broad support, presumably because there is a reluctance to approve the use of automated enforcement mechanisms similar to red light cameras in use in many Florida municipalities.
There might be room for creating a way to permit the use of stop arm cameras (and other video and photographic systems) to assist in the enforcement of the law while not relying on automated enforcement to do so. School districts could file reports of violations and provide video or photographic evidence that supports the complaint, and the law would authorize law enforcement to cite the violating motorists based on that evidence.
The law should also include stiffer penalties for violations of the law as is currently proposed in the legislature. We agree that doubling the current fines is appropriate, but we also advocate adding a surcharge that would be routed to the state treasury and claimed by the school district in which the violations occurred in order to fund school bus camera systems, transportation of students around hazardous walking conditions, transportation of ineligible students, and safety training programs.
We intend to collaborate with student transportation experts across the state of Florida in the coming months and prepare language for the 2021 Florida legislative session.