Despite a state law that encourages school districts to survey the number of motorists who illegally pass stopped school buses, only about a third of the state's school bus drivers are participating.
Last year, Washington state enacted the law that requires the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to conduct the one-day survey on May 1 each year. But school districts' participation in NASDPTS' annual spring count is voluntary. There are approximately 10,600 certified school bus drivers in the state and 10,166 school buses on route, according to the most recent data provided by OSPI to School Transportation News and published in the 2013 Buyer's Guide.
"We are pushing for local media attention on this year's count ... and included the results in the annual school bus driver in-service material," said Allan J. Jones, the director of pupil transportation at OSPI. "Hopefully, that raises questions about why some districts chose to not participate and will encourage higher rates in the future."
Washington first provided state survey results to NASDPTS in 2012, as 4,089 drivers participated and recorded 1,598 motorists pass. This year, participation fell to 3,588 drivers who observed 1,523 illegal passers. It's an issue being seen nationwide, as decreases in participation were also seen in many other states, including: Arkansas; Georgia; Idaho; Illinois; Iowa; Michigan; Missouri; Nevada; North Carolina; South Carolina; and Wyoming. Louisiana, Oklahoma and Massachusetts reported data in 2012 but not this year. Montana, Oklahoma and Tennessee participated for the first time.
One school district in Washington that does take part is Seattle Public Schools. Michele Drorbaugh, assistant manager of fleet operations, said the decision to participate boils down to districts' top priorities.
"It's just one more thing (for bus drivers) to do," she said, reasoning why some districts did not join the statewide count. "And that's sad, because it is important. It's data we need."
She said OSPI gave districts a month of lead time to prepare for the May 1 survey, which she said was plenty of time to meet with drivers. Plus, she added, it shouldn't have come as a surprise because the date was has been set by the state legislature since 2011.
"At our ESD directors meeting, we talked about it and told drivers we need to do this. Let's just be on board." added Drorbaugh.
In the end, she estimated that about a dozen of the other 35 local districts participated in the survey. Seattle reported 312 illegal passes on May 1, down from 510 in 2012.
Drorbaugh said she perceived that the study "doesn't take that much time" for districts like Seattle that have more than 400 drivers, even including the time spent auditing the results before submitting them to the state.
"It takes about a day," she added. "Plus, May is just not that busy of a time of year, at least from my perspective."
The district's last day of school for the 2012-2013 school year was June 14. The new school year starts Sept. 4. By Oct. 1, Drorbaugh said Seattle plans to implement the CrossingGuard stop-arm camera enforcement program by American Traffic Solutions.