GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The advent calendar in Nancee Privacky’s home sits on the wall, forever marking Dec. 14. On that day in 2011, she lost her only two children in a car crash involving a school bus.
Since then, she has been fighting for a new law that is finally progressing through the state legislature.
Privacky’s 16-year-old son Bruce was driving his 13-year-old sister Antonia home from school when they crashed into the back of a Coopersville school bus that was preparing to stop.
“We don’t know what happened in that instance. Was there a deer they were looking at out in the field? Were they fighting over the radio? I have no idea. We know it wasn’t their phones,” Privacky said.
BILL TO GET NEW ‘STOP’ LIGHTS ON BUSES
Privacky was on the floor of the Michigan House of Representatives about two months ago when lawmakers passed House Bill 4054. — also known as the Privacky Law — in a 101-6 vote.
The legislation, which now heads to the Senate, would allow school districts to put driver alert systems on the back of buses. The signs flash “Caution: Slowing” as the bus gets ready to stop and “Stop: Do Not Pass” when the bus is stopped.
“We want this to be available if schools choose to do it, so that somebody’s not left with just memories,” Privacky told 24 Hour News 8 of the proposal.
State Rep. Holly Hughes, R-Montague, is a friend of the Privacky family and has been fighting for the bill for three terms.
“Right now the red and yellow, people get confused or they don’t see it,” Hughes said. “This will be right at eye level so people can see it and hopefully it’ll catch their attention.”
Hughes said data from a 2015 study and a simple change of one word in the bill helped convince her fellow representatives to vote yes. The bill was modified from “buses shall be equipped” to “buses may be equipped.” The change is the difference between requiring schools to add the new signs and allowing them to make the switch. Hughes said lawmakers were concerned about putting a financial burden on school districts.
She said it’s important for HB 4054 to become law because schools can’t legally make changes to their school bus lights without the legislation.
STUDY SHOWS EFFECTIVENESS OF DRIVER ALERT SYSTEMS
The study that helped convince lawmakers of the effectiveness of the signs involved 10 school districts, including Ravenna Public Schools, Forest Hills Public Schools, West Ottawa Public Schools and Zeeland Public Schools.
For two weeks, bus drivers in those districts documented how frequently motorists passed illegally.
Howard Dashney is the executive director of the Michigan Association for Pupil Transportation and was in charge of the study. He says he typically gets three responses from drivers about why they illegally pass school buses.
“Ignorance is the first: ‘I didn’t know I was supposed to stop.’ Distraction is the second: They didn’t see the lights, they were doing other things. Thirdly is the design of the school bus itself,” Dashney explained.
The overhead amber and red lights on a school bus sit about nine feet off the ground, while a driver’s eye level in a typical sedan or SUV is no more than five feet off the ground. The driver alert system signs sit at eye level with motorists.
The study found that when the signs were in use, 49 percent fewer people illegally passed school buses from back to front, which is where the most crashes occur that injure children.
Dashney also asked bus drivers to anecdotally share how they felt about driving with and without the signs. He said that without the signs, drivers all expressed “absolute paralysis with fear” when kids were coming to the bus or walking away from it.
“During the two weeks where the message board was on, the overwhelming comment that we got from school bus drivers was that the traffic situation seemed a lot calmer, people approached the bus slower, they began the slowdown farther away,” he added.
According to Dashney, the driver alert systems would cost fewer than $200 per bus, as long as districts add them in bulk. If HB 4054 becomes law soon, he expects to see the signs on all buses in Michigan in the next three to five years due to pressure from people in the community.
Seven states and two Canadian provinces already have similar laws in place.
NEXT STEP FOR DRIVER ALERT SYSTEMS BILL
Hughes said state Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, has agreed to introduce her bill into the Senate Committee on Transportation. She hopes it will get out of committee for a vote on the Senate floor this fall. She expects it would get bipartisan support.
24 Hour News 8 has reached out several times to Casperson, but his staff said he is not willing to comment on the bill at this time.
Nancee Privacky hopes that her fight will pay off in the form of the governor’s signature on the bill.
“If it creates an opportunity to save somebody’s life, that’s the most important thing. If they can put a $100 stereo on a bus, they can spend a little and put the lights on. I think that would be at least something good came out of this tragedy — at least one, small good thing,” she said.