School bus drivers, fleet operators, school administrators, and public infrastructure planners share a common goal; ensuring the utmost safety of students and staff in transit. This requires the officials to be prepared for all eventualities so that when an incident occurs, it is resolved effectively, with minimum time taken and minimum losses incurred. Each state has different laws that detail the best practices for vehicles around a stationary school bus in the interest of safety.
Stopping rules for non-divided highways
The standard protocol, on a non-divided highway, is to stop for stationary school transport; this applies regardless of whether the vehicle is approaching the bus from the opposite direction or following it.
The two exceptions to this rule are the states of Washington and Ohio. In Washington, vehicles in the opposite lane are not require to stop, if the highway has three lanes or more. Ohio follows a similar rule for highways with four lanes or more.
Stopping rules for divided highways
In the US, vehicles generally do not need to stop for stationary school transport in the opposite lane, if they are traveling on highways with dividers or median strips. However, Mississippi, West Virginia, and New York State do not follow this rule. Three other states – Alabama, Florida, and Arkansas – also have special conditions for passage on divided highways.
For example, in Arkansas, vehicles in the opposite lane are only allowed to pass if the divider is 20 feet or wider. Alabama allows passage if the school bus is in a loading zone adjacent to a divided highway with at least four lanes. In Florida, vehicles can pass if the highway has a divider wider than 5 feet.
When should vehicles stop?
Stoppage is mandatory for vehicles on both sides when the school bus:
- Is stationary.
- Has a ‘STOP’ sign extended.
- Has its red lights flashing.
This stoppage remains in effect as long asthe lights continue toflash. Drivers are also advised to be cautious while accelerating and look out for crossing schoolchildren.
Some states specify the minimum distance that vehicles must maintain from a stationary school bus.
- Colorado: 20 feet, whether on a highway or at an intersection.
- New York:20 feet.
- Louisiana:30 feet.
- West Virginia: 20 feet, only on an undivided highway. These laws apply even when the bus is on either school or private property.
The notable exception to this rule is Iowa. The state requires vehicles in the opposite lane to maintain a speed under 20 mph while being prepare to stop completely at least 15 feet from the bus.
Safety guidelines for school bus transportation in the post-pandemic landscape
Besides these, the CDC has also rolled out safety guidelines for school admins and transport officials in the wake of the pandemic. These include regular decontamination of school buses, installation of hand sanitizer stations at the bus entry, driver training, and procedures to deal with sick students and drivers.
The idea is to minimize the risk of accidental transmission and ensure a safe commute experience for all as schools begin to reopen in a phased manner. It is a responsibility of staggering magnitude. The digital fleet management platforms are here to help the authorities accomplish this and more.
SafeBus, for instance, can automate, streamline, and augment end-to-end school bus fleet management operations. Powered by AI, machine learning, IoT, cloud computing, geofencing, and proprietary algorithms; the software can also ensure seamless compliance with COVID-19 safety protocols. The automated system can plan and implement optimal routes for each vehicle in the fleet. By tapping into historical and real-time data sourced from GPS, the system can implement immediate changes to the pre-plan route for a vehicle in transit. This ensures that school buses do not pass through a COVID-19 hotspot; while sidestepping traffic congestion or other contingencies that could add to driver stress or commute time.
Raise Alert to Transport Admin
The AI-driven framework can also maintain student rosters and checklists of essential supplies. It can proactively raise alerts to transport admins, enabling them to keep the inventory of sanitizer, masks, and other essential supplies always replenish. Further, it eliminates human errors by enabling automated scheduling and reminder delivery for critical maintenance and decontamination-related processes. Transport officials can also conduct regular temperature checks to ensure that no individual who shows signs of sickness is let on-board. In case any infection detects, the person can be promptly isolated; with the digital roster enabling and expediting accurate contact tracing.
The integration of this technology with existing monitoring hardware helps transport officials and school admins to ensure that safety norms are not violated inside the school bus. The student app is equip with a soft SOS button that the user can activate to flag any undesirable incidence; be it somebody breaking social distancing rule, taking off their masks, or attempting to indulge in delinquency.
The software sends out regular updates on the live location of the bus, its ETA, boarding/de-boarding status of students, etc. to the central dashboard along with the mobile applications designed for parents, school admins, and transport officials. The digital intervention offers unparalleled visibility into the transport operations to the relevant stakeholders. This allows them to intervene promptly in case of any discrepancy or emergency.
The reopening of schools marks the beginning of a new era for our nation; one which heralds the resumption of activities with newfound vigor and the realization of new opportunities. Let us make it one which incorporates cutting-edge technology to aid our pursuit of a safer, smarter, and healthier future for all.