The Conway School District is piloting a program to increase safety when children are loading and unloading from school buses.

If the program is successful — meaning drivers see a drop in cars illegally passing buses when children are loading or unloading — the state will change its specifications for school buses to allow them to include cross arms, which extend out and end with a flashing stop sign.

"This extends out about 7 feet, which on a two-lane road is for sure going to swing out into the other lane," Edward Dow, Conway Public Schools transportation supervisor, said. "Now, if they can’t see that, I don’t know what they can see."

Dow first saw the cross arms in a trade magazine and called the state director, Mike Simmons, to ask about adding some to the district’s buses.

"He told me no because they don’t meet Arkansas specs," Dow said. "Anything that goes on a school bus has to go through Arkansas state specs. [Simmons] said, ‘I’ll let you do a pilot program.’"

Dow immediately contacted the North Carolina company that manufactures the cross arms and was able to get a deal on two of them for $950.

His department installed the first cross arm last week on a bus that runs on Hogan Lane from Jim Stone Elementary School to just past Westlake Apartments, a route that has seen several cars illegally pass the bus.

"My driver has said it’s unbelievable how many run through there; some don’t even slow down," Dow said.

The second cross arm will be installed on a bus that runs "around the ballpark" and South German Lane in the next two weeks, Dow said.

"There was an adapter that we didn’t have the company sent to me [Thursday] so we’ll have it in place after spring break," he said.

District spokesman Heather Kendrick said the traditional "stop signs that fold out when the bus stops" leave room for improvement.

"There is still a big problem with motorists failing to stop for this," she said. "If we like it [the cross arms] and can get approval, we will likely install more of these on our buses."

Dow said his bus drivers report to police officers the license plates of cars that pass illegally, but it can be difficult to prosecute without proof.

"We try to get license plates and report them and the police try to help us out," he said, adding that identifying a car that hit the cross arm trying to pass would be easier. "This was just another tool that we thought might help."

(Assistant managing editor Jeanette Anderton can be reached by email at jeanette.anderton@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1212. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)