Bensalem Launches New School Bus Safety Program

The Bensalem Township School District has launched a new school bus safety program in partnership with the Bensalem Township Police Department that looks to curb dangerous motorist behavior around school buses.

Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo, School Superintendent Dr. Samuel Lee, and Director of Public Safety William McVey held a press conference at Cornwells Elementary School to announce the new program which will be live at the beginning of the 2022/23 school year.

All school buses in the Bensalem SD are now equipped with new safety measures, including stop-arm cameras that are designed to detect and record vehicles that illegally pass stopped school buses.

Announcement of Bensalem's New School Bus Safety Program
via Bensalem Police Department

School buses are illegally passed more than twice a day

Every day, 1.3 million students are transported by more than 21,000 school buses throughout Pennsylvania. A report from the School Bus Fleet Fact Book 2020, shows that these buses are illegally passed more than two times per bus per day. Which is far higher than the number of citations issued by state law enforcement throughout the entire 180-day school year in 2018.

In 2021, Operation Safe Stop revealed equally alarming results. The one-day study revealed that participating school districts and law enforcement agencies reported 252 violations of the law, up from the 120 reported last year.

In 2020, Governor Tom Wolf signed House Bill 364 (now Act 38), allowing school districts to implement violator-funded stop-arm enforcement programs to enforce school bus stopping laws and ensure the safety of Pennsylvania students.

How the Safety Program Works

The Bensalem Township School Bus Safety Program combines education with enforcement to effectively change motorist behavior over time and create a culture of awareness and responsibility around school buses.

In addition to stop-arm enforcement cameras, the Bensalem Township School District fleet is now fully equipped with additional features to improve safety for students and drivers which include: 360° safety cameras inside and outside the bus, and GPS tracking

When a vehicle illegally passes a school bus when its red lights are flashing, and stop-arm activated, a multi-lens camera box on the side of the bus captures the violation along with the car’s license plate at different depths and angles.

The footage, GPS, and timecode data are stored locally on an onboard digital video recorder (DVR) unique to each bus.

All data relating to the incident and violation is sent via an encrypted LTE cell network to a secure cloud system, where it is filtered by artificial intelligence (AI) software before being reviewed by a trained “safety specialist”.

If the “specialist” determines the violation is an offense, the specialist prepares an evidence package for law enforcement. The package is built in accordance with State law, complete with video footage, license plate number, make, model, vehicle owner information, GPS location, and a timestamp of the incident.

The evidence package is sent to law enforcement partners via a secure portal. Local law enforcement officers review the evidence for approval.

If approved, a notice of the violation is mailed to the owner of the vehicle, who is legally responsible for the violation per the law. The notice is issued along with a link to the AlertBus Driver Education & Payment Portal, where they can view the video evidence of their violation.

The vehicle owner can make their payment online, through the mail, or in person at a designated location within the jurisdiction.

Notices of violation can also be contested through the relevant jurisdiction’s civil court system.

Fines and penalties

The penalty for passing a school bus with the stop arm deployed and red lights flashing will be a $300 civil penalty.

If the violation is determined to be egregious by the police department after review of the video evidence, the owner/driver will be cited civilly, they will receive a citation with a $250 fine, 5 points on their driving record, and an automatic 60-day suspension of your driving privileges upon conviction.

“But even worse than these penalties, a tragedy could occur if either a driver or a student is not paying attention to their surroundings.” Corporal Zeina Black, Permits and Bus Safety Unit Supervisor with the Pennsylvania State Police.

The School Bus Stopping Law

The School Bus Stopping Law requires motorists approaching a school bus with its red lights flashing and stop arm extended, to stop at least 10 feet from the bus. Motorists approaching from all directions are required to stop.

However, motorists who encounter a school bus stopping on the opposite side of a divided highway are not required to stop when lanes of the highway are clearly separated by a divider, such as a concrete barrier or grassy median.

  • Motorists must stop at least 10 feet away from school buses that have their red lights flashing and stop arm extended.
  • Motorists must stop when they are behind a bus, meeting the bus, or approaching an intersection where a bus is stopped.
  • Motorists following or traveling alongside a school bus must also stop until the red lights have stopped flashing, the stop arm is withdrawn, and all children have reached safety.
  • If physical barriers such as grassy medians, guide rails, or concrete median barriers separate oncoming traffic from the bus, motorists in the opposing lanes may proceed without stopping.
  • Do not proceed until all the children have reached a place of safety.

Tips for Parents/Students

  • Get to the school bus stop five minutes early so you won’t have to run across the road to catch the bus.
  • When waiting for the bus, stay away from traffic. Line up at least five giant steps away from the curb or the roadway to wait for the bus.
  • Never run after the school bus if it has already left the bus stop.
  • Never push when getting on or off of the school bus.
  • Always walk at least 10 feet in front of the bus when crossing so that the school bus driver can see you.
  • Be aware — cross with care! Wait until the school bus has stopped all traffic before stepping out onto the road.
  • When the school bus is moving, always stay in your seat. Never put your head, arms, or hands out of the window.
  • Talk quietly; do not distract your school bus driver.
  • If your school bus crosses railroad tracks, be calm and quiet so that your driver can listen for a train. Always obey your school bus driver’s instructions, so that he or she can make safe decisions.
  • Never play with the emergency exits. Backpacks, band instruments, or sports equipment may not block the aisle or emergency exits. If there is an emergency, listen to the driver and follow instructions.
  • When getting off of the school bus, make sure that all drawstrings and other loose objects are secure so that they don’t get caught on the handrail or the door.
  • Never cross the street behind the school bus.
  • If you leave something on the bus or drop something outside of the bus, never go back for it. The driver may not see you and begin moving the bus.
    Never speak to strangers at the bus stop and never get into the car with a stranger.

Tips for School Bus Drivers

  • Always do a pre-trip inspection prior to every run to check for mechanical defects that could jeopardize safety.
  • Be reliable and dependable — your students count on you every day!
  • Establish a positive relationship with your students. You are the first authority figure they encounter, and you set the tone for the day.
  • Pennsylvania law prohibits children from standing on the bus while the bus is in motion.
  • Check to make sure all of the children unloading from the bus are at a place of safety before deactivating your eight-way light system and moving the school bus.
  • Do not allow children to exit the bus before all traffic has come to a complete stop and the safety equipment has been engaged.
  • After unloading all children at the school or after your last stop, make sure to do a post-trip of your bus and check to make sure that no child has been left on the bus.
  • Pennsylvania law prohibits any items including students from barricading the aisles and the emergency exit.
  • Be prepared to act appropriately in emergency and crash situations. Your actions could mean the difference between life and death.
  • Be sure to provide adequate instruction so that every student is familiar with school bus emergency procedures and equipment use, as well as the safe loading and unloading procedures.
  • Always follow the “Five Alive” Operation Lifesaver steps when approaching a railroad track. For more information, please visit the Operation Lifesaver website.
  • If you see or hear an emergency vehicle, you should be aware that although the emergency vehicle is required to come to a complete stop when it encounters a school bus loading or unloading students, it is legal for it to proceed with caution even if the bus’s eight-way light system is still activated, as long as it doesn’t risk the safety of the students.

For more information on school transportation and other safety subjects, visit the School Bus Safety page on PennDOT’s website.

NOTE: The majority of Street Road through Bensalem Township is a two-lane roadway in each direction with a center turning lane with no physical barrier. This means that ALL traffic should stop in both directions when a school bus is stopped with its warning signals activated. These violations WILL be cited utilizing this new technology.

Source:  CRIMEWATCH®

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