In August 2022, Bensalem Township became the first municipality in Pennsylvania to launch a safety program aimed at curbing dangerous motorist behavior around school buses. Every bus in the Bensalem Township School District was equipped with stop-arm enforcement cameras, designed to detect vehicles that illegally pass stopped school buses. Repercussions range from a $300 civil penalty to a 60-day license suspension.
Despite these possible penalties, it was recently revealed by director of public safety William McVey, Mayor Joe DiGirolamo and Lt. Robert Bugsch that, since the program’s inception at the end of August, there have been 3,500 violations, or an average of 35 per day.
This, they said, is unacceptable.
“It’s a shocking number that none of us anticipated, but the goal of this whole program is to change driver behavior, to get people to be aware, to stop, to keep the kids as safe as we can,” said McVey.
According to McVey, there are several reasons why drivers illegally bypass buses so often. When they see yellow flashing lights, the gut reaction is to speed up, rather than slow down, much like one does at a traffic stop to avoid sitting at a red light. There’s also the distraction of cellphones, GPS and other info-tainment gadgets inside the vehicle, which could result in one accidentally passing the bus.
In an effort to lower this striking statistic, Bensalem’s Traffic Enforcement Unit is stationed at several violation “hot spots,” including between Dunksferry Road and Street Road, and Bristol Pike between Hulmeville Road and Tennis Avenue.
“Hopefully, with the high visibility, that will prevent more violations in the future,” said Bugsch. “If we wind up getting you, it is more of a severe punishment than if bus patrol gets you. If one of the officers stops you for violating that bus arm, the driver is looking at a possible 60-day suspension on the driver’s license, $250 fine and five points added to their driver’s license if they’re convicted of that violation.”
If caught by bus patrol, it’s a $300 civil penalty.
McVey urged residents to follow Bensalem Police on social media, where the department highlights when it is and isn’t legal to pass a school bus. For example, the majority of Street Road through Bensalem Township is a two-lane roadway in each direction with a center turning lane with no physical barrier. This means that all traffic should stop in both directions when a school bus is stopped with its warning signals activated.
“We’re educating the public and hopefully, this will curb this behavior that is, in our eyes, off the charts,” said Bugsch.
“Just be careful driving and pay attention,” added McVey. “We don’t want to see a kid get struck.”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org