The MDJ recently brought news that Cobb and Marietta have unleashed Hawkeye the mascot on the problem of school bus stop-arm violators. Can the hashtag #stopforourbuses be far behind?
Of course, student safety is an important issue. Unfortunately, current policy seems focused on style over substance. The article quoted Cobb Superintendent Chris Ragsdale as supporting a goal of zero violations. Such zero tolerance initiatives often have good intentions but flawed reasoning.
First, the current policy targets an improper goal. The goal should be for zero injuries to the public rather than zero instances of traffic violations. Consider the simple example of a technical glitch, whereby none of the photo evidence from the bus cameras is properly recorded. The goal of zero violations would be met without any reduction in the risk to the public.
Although the article reported recent reductions in the number of violations, there was no information on whether student safety had been improved. The key question left unanswered is whether bus camera tickets have reduced the number of student injuries (or even near misses).
Second, the current policy ignores the law of unintended consequences. The policy assumes tickets and fines will cause drivers to alter their behavior for the better, but what if that behavior is altered for the worse? Perhaps some drivers, seeing a bus approaching a stop, opt to speed up in order to get ahead of the pending stop requirement. Similarly, other drivers may see the bus late, and decide to stop aggressively. Both situations increase the likelihood of vehicle accidents. While the policy intends to improve student safety, it likely unintentionally increases (or ignores) the safety of drivers.
Zero tolerance policies are popular among bureaucrats and politicians because they appeal to those who think “something must be done.” Unfortunately, not enough people ask whether the right thing is being done, or whether it is making the situation better for everyone involved.