Carla Stearns stands with the bus that sports an experimental stop arm.

Carla Stearns stands with the bus that sports an experimental stop arm.

The biggest safety problem Brookfield school bus drivers have is motorists who do not stop when students are getting off or on the bus, said Carla Stearns, Brookfield Local School District’s transportation supervisor.

“When you’re sitting in the bus, you’re up higher, so you can see down in the cars better,” she said. “You see a lot of people on their phones, even though Ohio’s law is you can’t be on your phone. You do have some that will look you right in the eye and pass you.”

Stearns estimated her drivers have seen three times more instances of motorists passing buses that have their flashing red lights on in the past year than in the last three years.

However, Stearns has seen a decline in these instances since a four-foot-long stop arm was attached to the stop sign of one of the buses about six weeks ago, she said. The arm lights up and has reflective tape on it, and reaches part way into the opposing lane of travel.

“It’s that bright, it’s that noticeable in the daytime,” said school Supt. Toby Gibson. “The whole idea is to make drivers more aware so that they are not passing school buses at bus stops,” 

Driver Tonia Campana saw a Facebook post about the stop arm and referred it to Stearns. Stearns called a school district in West Virginia that has buses outfitted with the arms – “They just love them,” Stearns said – and then contacted the manufacturer, Bus Gates.

Bus Gates does not currently sell the device in Ohio, but sent her a demo arm that she bolted onto the stop sign.

“With this on, it’s definitely decreased,” Stearns said of motorists failing to stop for a bus’s flashing red lights. “We finally had a couple run it. But, normally it’s over (on) Warren Sharon in front of Mr. D’s, that area, where some people are confused. They don’t think that, on the other side of the turning lane, they have to stop, but they do.”

Ohio Revised Code says that when a bus is taking on or dropping off students, motorists “shall stop at least 10 feet from the front or rear of the school bus and shall not proceed until such school bus resumes motion, or until signaled by the school bus driver to proceed.”

This provision is for any road of three or fewer lanes, including roads such as Warren Sharon Road in front of Mr. D’s, which has a middle, left-turn lane.

On roads of four or more lanes, only motorists proceeding in the bus’s direction of travel have to stop.

“As there’s more distracted drivers, you need everything you can to make us more visible, ”Stearns said. The arm “definitely helped on Route 7 and Warren Sharon, where we don’t have the turning lane.”

Ohio Highway Patrol, which has jurisdiction over school bus design, has come to Brookfield to see the arm, and a couple of other schools also have visited, Stearns said. 

Stearns said she is waiting for Bus Gates to present the final product it plans to sell in Ohio before recommending to school officials whether she would like to have stop arms affixed to all buses.

The arms cost about $500 a piece.

“Anything we can find to protect the kids, that’s the most important part – getting them to school safely, getting them home safely,” Stearns said.

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