BUS FUSS

State troop­ers, school of­fi­cials urge driv­ers to obey bus safety fea­tures

Sunday Star - - FRONT PAGE - By CON­NIE CON­NOLLY cconnolly@ches­pub.com

EAS­TON — With stu­dents head­ing back to school on Tuesday, Sept. 5, Mary­land State Po­lice and lo­cal school dis­trict trans­porta­tion su­per­vi­sors are re­mind­ing driv­ers to be vig­i­lant.

State troop­ers across Mary­land will join their lo­cal law en­force­ment part­ners in spe­cial school bus en­force­ment pa­trols dur­ing the start of this school year.

Ex­tra pa­trols will be de­ployed on school bus routes, and troop­ers will tar­get mo­torists driv­ing un­safely around school buses or ig­nor­ing red flash­ing lights when a bus is stopped.

Those break­ing the law could pay up to a $570 fine and re­ceive a three-point penalty on his or her driver’s li­cense.

Driv­ers — es­pe­cially “red light run­ners” — also are be­ing watched more care­fully, with school bus driv­ers call­ing in ve­hi­cle de­scrip­tions and li­cense plates of those who en­dan­ger chil­dren by pass­ing buses that are pick­ing up and drop­ping off stu­dents.

“(Many driv­ers) are not re­ally pay­ing at­ten­tion,” said Fred­die McCracken, trans­porta­tion man­ager for Tal­bot County Pub­lic Schools.

“They’ll run our red lights. They’ll pass the bus with their red signs with the red lights (po­si­tioned out­ward). And just about ev­ery­one we see go by us — they’re ei­ther talk­ing on

the cell phone, or we see them them tex­ting. They don’t even rec­og­nize the bus is stopped and let­ting kids on and of f,” McCracken said.

“One of the most fre­quent com­plaints of school bus driv­ers is that other mo­torists do not obey the school bus stop law,” the Kent County Pub­lic Schools de­part­ment of trans­porta­tion web­site states.

“We have sev­eral of these re­ports each month from our bus driv­ers. Each time a mo­torist vi­o­lates the school bus stop law, he or she cre­ates a real haz­ard for the stu­dents who are board­ing or leav­ing the bus,” KCPS stated. “We haven’t had any­one get hurt yet, but there have been some close calls. To date we ... had 13 re­ported in­ci­dents of mo­torists not ad­her­ing to the school bus stop law for the (2016-2017) year.”

“Red light run­ners are an on­go­ing prob­lem we have,” said Mar­garet Ellen Kal­manow­icz, su­per­vi­sor of trans­porta­tion for Queen Anne’s County Pub­lic Schools. “When stu­dents are mov­ing near the bus, it’s im­por­tant for stu­dent safety that driv­ers be ob­ser­vant.”

“Am­ber lights flash at least 100 feet in advance of a stop, and the bus driver doesn’t ac­ti­vate the red lights un­til the bus is fully stopped,” she said.

“We’ve got red lights, we’ve got dual stop signs with strobe lights on them in­di­cat­ing that we’re stopped, and they just go by,” McCracken said. “They don’t even rec­og­nize the bus is there, be­cause at times, when the state po­lice has been work­ing with us on the red light run­ners, and they stop them, (the driv­ers) say, ‘I didn’t see the school bus.’”

“How can you not see a big yel­low school bus with stop signs and red lights on them? You know, the de­tail of pay­ing at­ten­tion any­more and ev­ery­body look­ing at tech­nol­ogy means they’re not re­ally pay­ing at­ten­tion to what’s in front of them,” McCracken said.

McCracken said most of the red light run­ners ap­proach the front of the school bus, but some driv­ers ap­proach­ing from the rear of a bus try to pass it on the right side, es­pe­cially in town.

“We try to do every­thing we can to try to hold the kids and make sure ev­ery­body’s stopped, but as they start go­ing across the road, we’ve got a mi­cro­phone so we can yell and tell them to stop, but you know, the high school, mid­dle school kids — they kinda listen a lit­tle bit, but the lit­tle ones, you know” — McCracken clapped his hands sharply — “they’re gone (across the street).

“We try to do every­thing on the door side as much as pos­si­ble in drop­ping kids off, es­pe­cially with el­e­men­tary school kids,” McCracken said.

In ad­di­tion to be­ing vig­i­lant, driv­ers should leave ear­lier for their nor­mal com­mute to work or school, es­pe­cially dur­ing the first week of school, Kal­manow­icz said.

“Bus driv­ers will be get­ting their sched­ules down pat as they are learn­ing their routes and watching for chil­dren at their stops,” Kal­manow­icz said. “Mo­torists should leave ex­tra time, so that there isn’t any frus­tra­tion.”

Robert Jester, su­per­vi­sor of trans­porta­tion for Caro­line County Pub­lic Schools, stressed pa­tience and cour­tesy. “Lit­tle things mean a lot,” he said.

“Par­ents take pic­tures of stu­dents get­ting on the bus for the first day,” Jester said. “We al­ways have lit­tle chil­dren who are a lit­tle late com­ing out to the bus stop, kids who are not used to the rou­tine of get­ting on the bus and of ex­actly where to stand, kids with first day jit­ters and mom tr ying to coax ju­nior on the bus.”

Jester said all the county schools have new stu­dents. “We’ve spent the last cou­ple of days putting new stu­dents in the sys­tem who are not used to Caro­line County buses and where to get on the bus. Our sixth-graders are rid­ing dif­fer­ent buses than they have in the past, and all of our kinder­garten­ers are rid­ing the bus for the first time.”

Most bus driv­ers “have been out on the road rid­ing around mak­ing sure ex­actly where to stop,” but they will take the ex­tra pre­cau­tion of try­ing “to creep up to the stop to make sure kids don’t come out in front of the buses.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Re­search Coun­cil, more than 800 stu­dents are killed go­ing to and from school each year. This in­cludes 131 fa­tal­i­ties to pedes­tri­ans, 46 to bi­cy­clists, five who ride school buses and 15 pedes­tri­ans at school bus stops.

Stu­dents, es­pe­cially in the win­ter months, of­ten wait for their bus be­fore dawn. In Queen Anne’s County, the ear­li­est pick-up time is 6 a.m. when it’s still dark.

How­ever, stu­dents who travel to the Kennedy Krieger In­sti­tute or the Mar yland School for the Blind in Bal­ti­more on QACPS buses may be picked up as early as 5:30 a.m.

Most reg­u­lar ed­u­ca­tion stu­dents are home by 4:45 p.m., but late buses don’t leave school un­til 5 p.m., Kal­manow­icz said. “Even dur­ing the day, we have all kinds of pro­grams with buses go­ing to and from school.”

The Na­tional Safety Coun­cil of­fers the fol­low­ing tips for shar­ing the road safely with school buses:

• When driv­ing be­hind a school bus, make sure to al­low a greater fol­low­ing dis­tance than if you were driv­ing be­hind an­other car. This will give you more time to stop once the yel­low lights be­gin to flash.

• Never pass a bus from be­hind or from ei­ther di­rec­tion if you’re on an un­di­vided road if it is stopped to load or un­load chil­dren. It is il­le­gal in all 50 states to pass a school bus that is stopped to load or un­load chil­dren.

• If yel­low or red lights are flash­ing and the stop sign is ex­tended, you must stop.

• Make sure you’ve stopped far back enough to al­low chil­dren to safely en­ter and exit the bus. The area 10 feet sur­round­ing a school bus is the most dan­ger­ous for chil­dren.

• Pay at­ten­tion; chil­dren can be un­pre­dictable and tend to ig­nore haz­ards.

PHOTO BY CON­NIE CONNOLY

Mid-Shore driv­ers are urged to prac­tice cau­tion and vig­i­lance as stu­dents re­turn to school this week. State and lo­cal po­lice are step­ping up pa­trols, watching es­pe­cially for driv­ers ig­nor­ing school bus stop signs and lights, like these on Tal­bot Coun­try Pub­lic Schools bus No. 200

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