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