LANSING, Mich. — New findings from a statewide pilot program offer the strongest case yet for mandating new eye-level lighting on the rear of school buses, according to a state lawmaker who's been advocating the changes for years.
Rep. Holly Hughes, R-Montague, has been the driving force behind an effort to pass legislation requiring all new school buses be outfitted with improved rear warning lights.
Hughes began pursuing changes following a 2011 crash that killed two Ravenna teens when the vehicle they were riding in rear-ended a school bus. The family of Antonia,13, and Bruce Privacky, 16, has also been fighting for the changes in wake of the crash.
Dec. 14, 2015 marks four years since the deadly accident.
In October, 10 districts across the state, including Forest Hills Public School, began piloting the new lighting alert system to determine whether they were actually effective and worth the investment to change to the law.
In addition to the usual flashing lights and stop signs drivers have grown accustomed to, the new lighting system also displays explicit text reading "Stop" and "Do not pass" on the rear door of the bus.
Statewide, 40 buses were outfitted with the lighting designed to stop so-called 'pass-bys' by placing lights closer to a driver's eye-level.
During a two week period prior to having the new lighting installed, drivers of the selected buses recorded the number of instances where a motorist illegally passed a stopped bus. The same drivers in the same buses then spent another two-week period recording whether the number of illegal "pass-bys" changed with the new lights installed.
Preliminary results of the study found, depending on the district, between 40 to 50 percent of motorists were more likely to not illegally pass a bus with the new lighting system, according to Hughes.
It's an unexpected finding, but one Hughes calls 'significant.'
“It’s huge, I think it makes an excellent case," she said. “When we had our actual sign that says ‘stop, do not pass’ and there’s no question and it’s at eye level, it was 40 percent more likely not to have illegal ‘pass-bys’ because of that light.”
The study also found, on two-way streets, drivers heading toward the buses with the new lights were 20 percent more likely to stop, something Hughes said can be attributed to drivers seeing other motorists behind the bus stopping.
While the data provides a strong case to push the legislation forward, the growing tide of states adopting similar laws is also indicative of the growing need, Hughes said.
Right now five states, including Texas, have similar lighting requirements for school buses.
Forest Hills, Ravenna, Zeeland, West Ottawa and Van Buren ISD were among the school districts in Michigan that participated in the study. Each district had a handful of buses retrofitted with the new lighting.
Hughes said the lighting can cost anywhere between $100-$300 for each bus. Local districts would foot the bill under their transportation budgets and would have the option to retrofit existing buses with the new technology.
While it's a change she even admits first being skeptical about, Hughes now argues the numbers speak for themselves
“You would think already a school bus is big and yellow, what’s the problem? But once you have that sign on there, it’s clear in words," she said. "This is what we need and this is what we want.”
The legislation introduced by Hughes is expected to be taken up in committee within the first few months of the new year. The full findings of the statewide pilot program will be unveiled at that time, she said.