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Pay Attention: Bus Stop Distracted Drivers Study Shared With School Board



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The Preusser Research Group Inc (PRG) of Trumbull and local police had distracted drivers at bus stops in their sights in April for a study, and the Board of Education heard the results at its September 17 meeting.

Newtown resident and traffic safety scientist and owner/CEO of PRG, Neil Chaudhary, PhD; Newtown Police Department Patrol Supervisor Sergeant Jeffrey Silver; and PRG field data coordinator Jim Nissen attended the meeting to share the study’s results.

The Distracted Driving at School Bus Stops: Connecticut Pilot Program in Bethel, Monroe, and Newtown study was designed following, Dr Chaudhary explained, crashes being noted nationally. Dr Chaudhary pointed out that he does not want to be taken as an alarmist, and “school buses are among the safest if not the safest mode of ground transportation there is.”

About a year ago, Dr Chaudhary said there were three incidents nationally that involved five deaths at school bus stops. Two of the crashes were determined to be a result of distracted driving. PRG reacted by meeting with the Department of Transportation and later superintendents and police departments.

“Basically, we enforced distracted driving behavior at times when bus stops were letting off or picking up and in areas where there were bus stops,” Dr Chaudhary said. “So this was not an enforcement of passing stopped school buses.”

The study was conducted along Routes 25 and 302 in April. The pilot program was a collaboration with the towns’ superintendents, police departments, the Connecticut Department of Transportation’s Highway Safety Office, and PRG, according to the presentation at the meeting. There is a possible recent increase of cars passing stopped school buses, there is a theoretical link between distracted driving with that behavior, and enforcement efforts to curb distracted driving during school bus pick and drop off times may reduce the passing of stopped buses, the presentation shared.

The pilot program was conducted in April, National Distracted Driving Month. It used a “corridor enforcement” approach to conduct the initial administration along one main stretch. PRG made initial observations along the predetermined path.

“[Then] law enforcement came in, did an excellent job of enforcement, and we came out again and measured distracted driving again,” said Dr Chaudhary. “What we were looking at was just people with phone to the ear or texting behavior.”

While the study was being conducted, the Newtown Police Department continued its regular distracted driving enforcement elsewhere in town as well, Sergeant Silver and Dr Chaudhary explained.

The presentation highlighted that the slogan for National Distracted Driving month is “Stay alert so kids don’t get hurt,” and the pilot program’s slogan was “Don’t get BUSted. U Drive. U Text. U Pay” for a reason: “These programs are effective when people know they are happening,” Dr Chaudhary said.

Results And Future Plans

A “results” slide shared at the meeting offered the percent of incidents per total number of drivers before and after the enforcement efforts were made. Newtown’s “pre” was 5.3 percent and “post” was 3.9 percent; Bethel’s “pre” was four percent and “post” was 3.3 percent; and Monroe’s “pre” was 5.3 percent and “post” was 3.9 percent. The decline in incidents was noted as 26 percent in Newtown, 18.5 percent in Bethel, and 23.2 percent in Monroe. The overall 23.1 percent reduction in distracted driving near bus stops was a “significant” amount, Dr Chaudhary reflected.

“This was a pilot study: There are a lot of things that are left unanswered that we hope to answer in the future,” Dr Chaudhary concluded. He added that the hope is to answer whether passing stopped school bus violations are a function of distracted driving, if school bus stop enforcement is more effective than standard enforcement, and whether the program deterred violators from passing stopped school buses.

Dr Chaudhary said PRG is hoping to use what was learned from the pilot program to “make it a little bit better.”

“What we plan to do is increase participation,” Dr Chaudhary said. “We’re hoping to have at least 12 agencies and towns involved. Our hope is that Newtown will join us again.”

Other adjustments will be made too, like potentially tapping bus drivers to tally incidents of distracted driving near bus stops.

Dr Chaudhary also hopes the study will go statewide with a potential national “roll-out” in the future.

“One of the important things is to get the public aware that it is happening,” said Dr Chaudhary, “and I think when they start considering who the potential victims are that might get it to sink in.”

Other Business

In other discussion at the meeting, Board of Education Chair Michelle Embree Ku told her board she thinks it is time to discuss the option of purchasing a property adjacent to Hawley Elementary School. She expects the topic will be added to a future meeting’s agenda.

The board also heard its monthly financial report from Business Director Ron Bienkowski. As it was “only the second month of the fiscal year,” Mr Bienkowski said, he was “happy to report we are in the black.”

The school board also approved the superintendent’s 2019-20 goals at the meeting. Among other things, the goals include articulating a district vision and core values that promote a positive, safe, and inclusive culture; developing and communicating an operational plan for 2020-21 that balances educational needs and the community; facilitating and monitoring a systemic approach to social-emotional learning that includes the use of shared language with students, parents, and the community; and working collaboratively with district stakeholders to design programs to meet students academic, social, and college-to-career readiness needs.

A non-meeting, which was not open to the public, to discuss negotiations followed the meeting.

Newtown Police Department Patrol Supervisor Sergeant Jeffrey Silver, left, and owner/CEO of Preusser Research Group Inc (PRG), Neil Chaudhary, PhD, second from left, share results from a study about distracted driving at school bus stops, at the Board of Education’s September 17 meeting. —Bee Photo, Hallabeck
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