The good news is that the tide is turning against red-light cameras. Camera operators have been plagued by scandal, mismanagement and public backlash. As a result, the number of cities employing red-light cameras has dropped from 700 in 2011 to 500 today—a 28 percent decrease.
The bad news is that the camera companies have found ways to compensate and are aggressively touting new applications for their technology. School bus cameras are one of the latest photo-based traffic enforcement “solutions” looking for a problem. These systems employ cameras mounted on the exterior of school buses to record alleged passing violations of stopped school buses that are loading or unloading children.
Supporters play upon the strong emotions elicited by the prospects of school children being injured or killed by negligent motorists. They imply cameras on school buses will save countless lives. They highlight the sheer amount of “exposure” involved with the perilous business of transporting kids on school buses.
True, there’s lots of exposure. According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report, every year our nation’s 450,000 public school buses travel more than 4.3 billion miles to transport 23.5 million children to and from school. Given all the buses, all the miles and all the kids, one might assume there’s lots of risk involved. But there isn’t. The NHTSA report found that children are eight times safer riding the bus to school than they are in passenger vehicles.
According to another NHTSA report, of the 1,351 people who died in school-bus related accidents between 2002 and 2011, only 123 were school-age pedestrians—the group that school bus cameras allegedly protect. However, the presence of a camera bolted onto the side of a bus would have done little, if anything, to prevent these tragedies. Why?
Because most school children killed in school-bus related accidents over the last 10 years were killed by the bus, not by a passing motorist.
That’s right. According to NHTSA, 72 percent of those 123 children were struck by the bus, and 28 percent were struck by another vehicle. Looking at it another way, school buses were responsible for the deaths of 88 school children while motorists were responsible for only 35 across the entire country over that 10-year period.
This is not a new trend. The Kansas State Department of Education has been collecting data on school bus-related fatalities since 1970. According to its latest survey, over the last 43 years, school buses have been responsible for 57 percent of school-age pedestrian fatalities, while other vehicles have been responsible for 39 percent.
If we really want to protect our children, shouldn’t we focus more on the bus-related fatalities than on the motorist-related ones?
The dynamic is similar to the current debate over lowering the DUI BAC threshold to .05 percent. Sounds like a good plan to some, but they ignore the fact that 92.5 percent of fatal alcohol-related crashes involve a driver with a BAC of .1 or higher. Alternatively, only 2.7 percent of fatal crashes involve a driver with a BAC between .05 and .08.
Proponents of the lower limit want to cast a vastly wider net to snare drivers who pose little if any risk and in the process divert precious intervention resources from those who potentially do pose a safety risk. Does this make any sense?
We should be asking the same question about school bus cameras.
We have no doubt that the vast majority of school bus drivers have been well trained and take their safety responsibilities seriously, as do the school districts that employ them. We hope school officials will see through the promises and propaganda and look for other ways to keep our children safe.