Florida’s School Bus Safety bill, which was passed by the House and Senate earlier this year, has been signed by Gov. Rick Scott. It imposes enhanced penalties on drivers who do not stop for a school bus and cause serious bodily harm or death to a person. It creates the Cameron Mayhew Act, named after a 16-year-old boy who was struck and killed by a car while crossing the road to board his bus on June 1, 2016. The driver of the car received a six-month license suspension and a $1,000 fine.
Starting July 1, drivers who pass a stopped school bus with its warning signals on and cause “serious bodily harm or death” to another person will be fined $1,500 and have their license suspended for one year. If a driver passes a stopped school bus but does not harm or kill someone, they will have four points added to their license; if they severely injure or kill someone, that will be raised to six points…
According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, over 2,400 people were ticketed in 2016 for ignoring a school bus’ red lights or stop arm….
Read the full article, from School Transportation News.
Given that there can be few things in driving that are more recklessly dangerous than passing a school bus that has stopped specifically to pick up or drop off school-aged children, why is there no mandatory, minimum prison sentence included in this law in respect of drivers who kill or seriously injure a child through such a deadly act of stupidity?
Because so many people in America carry guns, legally or otherwise, police officers undoubtedly and understandably find it stressful to stop vehicles in order to speak to the driver. And in turn, after news of previous bad incidents in which vehicle occupants have been shot by police officers, drivers find it very stressful to be stopped by the police.
The State of Illinois has now mandated that future student drivers must be taught what to do if stopped by the police, and this is it:
- Stay in your car unless you are told to get out.
- Have your license and registration ready.
- Roll down your windows so officers can see inside.
- Have your hands visible, and make all passengers do the same.
- Be polite and obey the officer’s commands.
- If asked to step out be sure your hands are empty.
This undoubtedly is good advice for being stopped by the police anywhere in the USA.
In the Global Status Report on Road Safety, 2015 — currently the most recent edition — the World Health Organisation, on page 18, has a section headed ‘Many countries need to strengthen road safety legislation’.
Given the respect the USA rightfully has in the world in other disciplines, it would be reasonable to expect the country to fare really well in this examination of standards, but unfortunately America is one of the worst-performing developed nations in the world in the context of highway safety and this ‘enforcement’ aspect of it proves to be no different.
Here’s part of what WHO writes on the overall subject:
“Road safety laws improve road user behaviour – a critical factor in road safety – to reduce road traffic crashes, injuries and deaths. A number of countries have achieved sustained reductions in traffic-related injuries and fatalities through effective road safety programmes that have included legislative change. The most positive changes to road user behaviour happen when road safety legislation is supported by strong and sustained enforcement, and where the public is made aware of the reasons behind the new law and the consequences of noncompliance.
“This section reports on an assessment of countries’ current legislation to meet five key behavioural risk factors for road traffic injuries: speed, drink–driving, failure to use motorcycle helmets, seat-belts and child restraints. There is a strong evidence base showing the positive impacts that legislation on each of these risk factors can have on reducing crashes, injuries and deaths.
“…[R]oad safety legislation is a dynamic field and that best practice evolves over time. This means that even high-performing countries constantly need to review their legislation, revising and updating it to meet the latest evidence base (this report explores two strong examples of this – drug–driving and mobile phone use while driving – where strong evidence bases have yet to be developed). Additionally, while the evidence base may act as a “blueprint” for laws relating to many risk factors for road traffic injuries,2 countries must take account of their local legislative context, the traffic situation, and a number of other country-specific factors that may all impact road safety legislation and the manner and speed at which legislative reform should be pursued.
Enforcement is vital to the success of road safety laws
“While there is clear evidence that enforcement is critical to the success of laws, the levels of enforcement required for maximum impact are often less readily available and depend on factors such as political will, available resources and competing priorities at a national level. In countries where legislation has not previously been accompanied by enforcement, particularly visible and high levels of enforcement may be needed to persuade the public that breaking the law in future may well result in a penalty…” [End of excerpt]
Five world maps follow, in the WHO report, but for the purpose of simplicity in this blog post, I have changed the colours into letter-grades: ‘A’ for green/good, ‘B’ for orange/moderate, and ‘C’ for red/poor.
So, for these five, clearly critical areas of enforcement highway safety, the USA receives the following results:
- Urban speed laws (p23): . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . C
- Motorcycle helmet laws and helmet standards (p27): . . . . . . . . . . . . . . C
- Drink–driving laws (p32): . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .B
- Seat-belt laws (p34): . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . B
- Countries meeting best practice criteria on child restraint laws (p37): B
Personal footnote: From everything I have seen in the near-20 years I have been in the USA, by far the biggest responsibility for the poor results from US highway safety legislation lies entirely in political ignorance of the facts and the vested interests of politicians turning their heads away from the best interests and maximum safety of the American people.