New lights on St. Johns County buses designed to help cars slow down sooner

by: Kaitlyn Chana, Action News Jax Updated:

Relatively new safety gear on school buses is decreasing illegal passing by drivers. St Johns County is the only county in Florida currently approved by the Department of Education to pilot a supplemental lighting system on school buses. 

The St. Johns County School District is outfitting 10 school buses this year with a supplemental lighting system as part of a pilot, after learning how successful this program has been in the state of Iowa.

Local school leaders said they’re optimistic that this simple enhancement to existing warning light systems will improve the safety of loading and discharging student riders from our buses each day. Early indicators show that motorists detect the lights sooner and accordingly decelerate quicker. 

The small but bright LED units are positioned just above the bumper, with two on the front of the bus and two on the rear. The are high-intensity lights are designed in a manner similar to police and emergency lights.

Al Pantano, the director of transportation for the St. Johns County School District, said the lights are aimed to prevent rear-end collisions and decrease illegal passing of school buses.

“The motorist detect the lights sooner and it causes them to go through their decision-making process to begin deceleration sooner,” Pantano said.

These extra warning lights are now at eye level for drivers in a midsize car to see when they’re behind the wheel. The hope is that these lights will grab drivers’ attention earlier when they see a stopped bus.

The supplemental lights are wired into the existing warning light system of the bus.

“It’s really getting the distracted driver or the driver that’s just not paying close attention to quickly realize what’s going on,” Pantano said.

The lights cost about $200 per bus and they’re designed to be seen from farther distances. When you see the red lights flashing on a school bus, that means students are boarding or exiting a bus. 

Pantano said every day about 120 drivers illegally pass a stopped school bus.

“Oh, it’s frustrating. There are some buses at some stops that every day they’re having an occurrence,” Pantano said. 

After the district compiles the results from this pilot program, Pantano hopes the state approves the funding for these supplemental lights as a safety option for districts. 

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