Blue Line

The wheels on the bus go round and round…

February 29, 2016  By Tom Rataj

986 words – MR PICS: rataj apr folder

Wheels on the bus go round and round

by Tom Rataj

Many of us are familiar with that little jingle, a staple of school-bus riders far and wide. Those big yellow buses have been a mainstay of student transportation across North America since the 1940s. An estimated 500,000 travel North American roads each school day.


The standard and familiar colour and markings are intended to increase the safety of riders by ensuring that the bus is readily visible and distinguishable from other traffic. The yellow shade dates from 1939 and was chosen partly because it is noticed in peripheral vision better than other colours. In some jurisdictions a white strobe light is mounted on the roof to further increase visibility.

Highway traffic regulations are essentially the same across North America, requiring drivers to stop when the bus is stopped at the side of the road with red lights flashing. Despite all of these measures, it’s estimated that thousands of motorists each day fail to comply with the regulations, putting students at risk.


When a school-bus stops at the curb to pick-up or drop-off passengers, the driver is required to activate a warning light system — usually a group of flashing red lights on the front and back and a large red flashing-light equipped stop-sign which swings outward 90 degrees on the left side.

Many jurisdictions also require that a barrier arm swings out from the front of the bus toward the curb to prevent exiting passengers from walking or running across the roadway.


Once the school-bus stops and activates the lights and stop sign, motorists travelling in both directions are required to stop before reaching it. The only general exception is on multilane highways where a physical barrier separates the two directions of travel. In this case motorists have to stop only if the bus is on their half of the roadway.

There are some minor provincial and state variances in the regulations for what is now commonly known as “stop-arm” violations.


In general, penalties for disobeying the regulations are quite severe. The set fine for tickets issued by a police officer reach into the $500 range or more and may include several demerit points.


Monitoring and enforcing these regulations can be a difficult, time-consuming and low-productivity undertaking for police. An officer assigned to or self-initiating stop-arm violation enforcement must be free to set up at a bus stop location and can generally only apprehend one or possibly two drivers before the bus moves on along its route.

Prosecuting the case successfully requires the officer to be able to testify that all the flashing red lights were working. This may require that they inspect the bus prior to it beginning it’s route.

{Stop-arm violation tech}

To address many of these challenges, numerous technology companies have developed solutions, including high-resolution video cameras mounted on the outside of the driver’s side of the bus. These record traffic activity when the bus is stopped and show that the flashing lights and stop-sign system are activated.

Most systems feature three video cameras mounted behind the stop-sign. One faces forward and includes the flashing stop-sign in the video-frame, while a second faces rearward and a third straight out beside the bus.

This setup ensures that any passing vehicle is recorded from the front, back and side, and shows the licence plate and driver.

Videos are recorded on a solid-state digital video recorder unit located on the bus, and are later forwarded to police.

{Legislation changes}

Various jurisdictions in North America have begun to deploy these systems and are modifying legislation to allow enforcement action based solely on the video evidence. A police officer generally reviews all violation videos, prepares the violation notice and mails it to the registered owner of the offending vehicle.

In most jurisdictions legislative changes need to be made to allow this accurate, efficient and cost-effective enforcement solution. Forward thinking legislators might even consider allowing a civilian to handle this process, freeing-up officers for more urgent work.


Search “stop arm violations” on YouTube and watch in horror the large number of videos showing drivers failing to stop for school buses. The most disturbing video I found was of a driver that actually leaves the roadway and drives down the sidewalk to get around a stopped bus!


A Canadian manufacturer of stop arm video systems (among other video hardware), Gatekeeper Systems of Abbotsford offers a complete turnkey solution under its Student Protector product line.

The system consists of a module that can include up to five cameras and a digital video recorder that saves a variety of data about the school-bus, including date and time, GPS coordinates, stop-sign operation and driver identification.

Enhanced versions include automatic licence plate recognition (ALPR) technology and infrared night vision capability.

Gatekeeper also produces a traffic infraction management system (TIMS), which uses all the video and accompanying data to quickly generate a violation notice. It can work through a web portal so that drivers receiving a violation notice can review the video and decide whether to dispute or pay the ticket.

Depending on the complexity of the system, prices can range to several thousand dollars per bus, although I would suspect these systems are substantially more efficient at documenting violators and issuing violation notices than having a police officer follow a bus along the route.

Given the statistics about the high number of stop arm violations, it’s surprising that there are not more fatalities. With continued budgetary pressure on police services, stop arms systems can be a very efficient and effective solution that automates much of the enforcement process.

Legislative and procedural changes will need to be made, and school boards and bus companies will need substantial funding to widely deploy the systems. The entire process could potentially be outsourced to free police officers for more urgent work.


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