Dangerous drivers endangering students' lives

Dangerous drivers endangering students' lives

CREATED Oct 31, 2012

Reporter: Corinne Hautala

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) – We know the roads are dangerous.  People are busy and always rushing to their next destination.  To top it off, there are driver’s texting, eating and checking their make-up.  It all boils up to a dangerous combination, especially when you add a school bus into the mix.

School districts work daily to keep students safe on the school bus.  9OYS got to go behind the scenes of the largest school bus system in Southern Arizona.

The Tucson Unified School District picks up and drops off about 11,000 students a day.

Juan Duarte, a TUSD bus driver, takes his job seriously.

“The trick is to have your head on a swivel,” he said looking back and forth from mirror to mirror.

National safety studies show school buses are one of the safest ways for students to get to school.  It is when they step off the bus the danger spikes.

To better understand how severe of an issue it is, drivers blowing pass school buses when kids are being pick up or dropped off, 9OYS rode along with Duarte on one of his morning routes.

Sure enough, 9OYS cameras caught someone driving right pass the buses flashing stop arm.

“It is funny how you get this big yellow vehicle that's hard to see,” said a frustrated Duarte.

On another stop, with Duarte, 9OYS caught a driver put on the breaks when they saw the news camera.  They came to a stop just shy of the stop arm.  The law requires drivers to stop behind the bus when the stop arm is out.

The TUSD transportation director said drivers are trained to documents

“Drivers are trained,” explained TUSD Transportation Director Paul Larson, “to get a license plate number when a car drives by.”

It is a method that Larson admits is not convenient for the driver, but adds, “That’s about the only option we have.”

Lawmakers nationwide are proposing bills, in their state, to add another option.  They want to add red light cameras on the outside of school buses.

9OYS asked Larson if TUSD would support something similar in Arizona.

“We've not looked into that here, but that's certainly something we'd consider doing,” he responded.

Officials with the Vail School District said it is looking into the cameras.

“We benefit if we save one child's life,” said Vail District Assistant Transportation Director John Nunes.

The reason it isn’t already in Arizona, Nunes said, is due to money.

“We're looking at the possibility of $2,500 per bus to get a camera system that allows us to do all the internal recording that we want to have done and the external recording,” said Nunes, “If there is a revenue stream that supports it, we'd be very happy to have it happen.”

Larson said he hasn’t seen proof that the cameras will encourage drivers to stop.

“I've not seen statistics that say it changes driver's behavior, but what it does is generate revenue for sure.”

The revenue, generated from tickets, goes to the maker of the cameras and law enforcement.

Duarte believes we could avoid the financial tug-of-war if people would just realize that a school bus won’t significantly slow them down.

“They think if they get stuck behind it [school bus] that they're going to be late or delayed,” he said.

On the stops 9OYS made with Duarte each one took less than a minute.

“Sometimes you wonder what they're thinking, because it’s obvious that it is flashing,” Duarte said, “but you can never tell why people do what they're going to do. They’re always in a hurry.”

Officials with school districts in Southern Arizona tell 9OYS they design their bus routes to limit students from crossing the street and work to limit the number of stops on busy roads.