Be safe around school buses
Hello pencils. Hello books. Hello teachers’ happy looks. School’s back from summer.
We love visiting schools on the first day of class. Those who wonder if administrators, teachers and staff care about students need only watch children return to school after summer break. We enjoy capturing the smiles, high fives and hugs as students walk through doors held open by eager principals and teachers.
But the start of a new school year also means a change in our morning and afternoon commutes as those big yellow school buses full of our most precious cargo are back on the roads. Tuesday afternoon’s accident in the Rising Sun area could not have been a more scary reminder to all drivers on county roads this week.
AAA Mid-Atlantic and the Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Safety and Education are once again urging motorists to slow down and stay alert in neighborhoods and school zones through the annual “School’s Open — Drive Carefully” campaign.
“As schools re-open, motorists must remember to be extra alert, slow down and observe the lower speed limits in school zones and residential areas, as children gather at neighborhood bus stops or are walking to and from school,” said Ragina Cooper Averella, manager of public and government affairs at AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Additionally, drivers must remember it’s the law to stop, in either direction of the road, for school buses when their lights are flashing red, as children may be crossing the street to either board the bus or get off.”
In 2014, nearly one-fifth of the 1,070 children 14 years and younger killed in traffic crashes were pedestrians, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Of the child pedestrians killed in single-vehicle crashes, 79 percent of the 203 children were struck by the front of the vehicle, the auto club states.
“More school-age pedestrians have been killed from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. than any other time of the day,” said Myra Wieman, traffic safety program manager with the Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Safety and Education. “Parents and guardians are urged to talk to their children about traffic rules and safety.”
As part of the “School’s Open — Drive Carefully” campaign, the auto club and the Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Safety and Education offer the following tips for drivers as school buses are back on the road.
•Slow down, follow the speed limit and be prepared to stop. Whether you are driving on a highway, in a residential neighborhood or on one of Cecil County’s winding country roads, take your time and pay attention to what is around your vehicle. Watch out for children who may dash out into the street or buses that may be coming to a stop. Keep in mind, many school zones now have speed cameras stationed in them.
•Also, come to a complete stop at intersections with stop signs. Research shows that more than one-third of drivers roll through stop signs in school zones or neighborhoods, according to the AAA news release. Look for clues of children nearby such as crossing guards, bicycles and playgrounds.
•Scan between parked cars, the auto club advises, because children can quickly dart out between them or other objects along the roadway.
•Stop for school buses, no matter how tempting it may be to drive around them. Not only is it dangerous to go around a bus that is loading or unloading children, it is against the law. Go ahead and slow down when you see those yellow lights flashing on the bus; they mean the driver is about to stop and pick up or drop off children. When the lights go red and the stop arm swings out from the bus, students are hopping on or off the bus. Not stopping for a school bus can result in costly fines, according to the Maryland State Police. A police officer can issue a $570 citation and assess up to three points for failure to stop for a school bus that is flashing red lights, according to AAA. Bus drivers can report vehicle information to law enforcement and a warning will be issued to drivers if the owner of the vehicle cannot be determined.
•As with any time you get behind the wheel, minimize distractions. To be blunt, put down your phone.
The first days of a school year are filled with promise: the promise of new teachers, new lessons and new friends. So let’s all be a little more cautious, and patient, on the road as we get back in the swing of the school year.