Minor bus accident reported on first day
Schools, sheriff’s office urge motorists to be cautious
The first day of school for some Leonardtown High School students ended with a bang after a motor vehicle accident involving a St. Mary’s school bus and a blue Ford Ranger was reported at 3:19 p.m. Tuesday afternoon on Route 5 near Chestnut Ridge Drive.
Jeff Thompson, public schools director of transportation, confirmed the bus was one of the 278 vehicles in the fleet during a phone call Wednesday. The bus was not at full capacity of 72 students at the time of the incident, he continued.
“There were 13 Leonardtown High School students being transported home,” he said. “The driver is OK … the students are OK. No injuries were reported at the scene.” He said there was minor damage to the bus.
Thompson and St. Mary’s County Sheriff Office representatives asked that community motorists be patient and cautious as everyone adjusts to back-to-school traffic.
“Please pay attention to school buses and be extra cautious around them,” Thompson said. With bus drivers adjusting to their routes and parents changing their schedules to pick up and drop off their students, he said it’s normal for timing issues to occur as the school year starts up.
An average school bus has about 10 stops, but some buses may have as few as two and as many as 30, “depending on the area they are serving,” Thompson said. He said some drivers will “pick up a full load of students at one stop” in busier areas, or have multiple stops in more rural areas to pick up one or two students at a time.
Tuesday “was a big step” into the back-to-school routine, he said. Prekindergarten students started their first day of class Wednesday, and HeadStart students will start next Monday, he continued.
“We’ll be back to a regular schedule by next week,” Thompson said.
Parents are able to request bus stop changes on the school system’s website, and staff will assess whether the
change is necessary, Thompson said.
Thompson said that school bus shelters, small enclosed areas that provide a place to go in inclement weather, are not set up through the school system. He said bus shelter companies and property owners maintain the shelters, and have to go through the St. Mary’s County Department of Land Use and Growth Management.
“The only thing they ask us is if there is a designated stop on the property,” he said.
Deputies will be on heightened alert for motorists speeding and passing school buses. The influx of school buses and parents transporting their kids to school increases the opportunity for traffic accidents during the first week of school, according to a release from the sheriff’s office.
The sheriff’s office also keeps data on areas of concern based on road engineering and blind areas, Capt. Steve Hall, sheriff’s office commander of special operations division, said earlier this month. Locations such as Route 235 near Oakville Elementary School in Mechanicsville, Great Mills Road near Jay Dee Court in Lexington Park and Route 234 near Horseshoe Road in Clements have all been reported as “problem areas” by community members, he said. “We concentrate our efforts in these areas.”
“Slow down, look out for school children,” Hall said. “We will be shadowing school buses at the start of the school year … to make sure the children and other drivers are safe.”
Failure to stop for a school bus will result in a $570 fine and a 3-point penalty on a license.
In Maryland, fines are doubled for speeding in a school zone or designated school crossing. The law also states that it is illegal to pass a school bus when it displays a stop signal and alternating red flashing lights.
The sheriff’s office release said allowing for extra time for traveling and being patient as bus drivers pick up and drop off students is one way motorists can avoid a fine.
Driving the speed limit and being aware of any reduced limits in school zones is another way to avoid a fine. Motorists are advised to not “pass school buses when flashing lights are activated and/or crossing arm is deployed,” according to the release.
The sheriff’s office also asks motorists to “avoid [use of] electronic distractions” such as cellphones and radios. Being mindful of students walking on, standing near or crossing roadways is another way to avoid any fines and accidents.
Students and parents are reminded to “stay away from traffic and avoid roughhousing or other behavior that can lead to carelessness” as they wait near the roads, according to the release. Playing in the roadway is also discouraged. Staying away from the rear of the bus and remaining quiet while boarding the vehicle are other ways to ensure the safety of all at the stop, according to the release.
An accident involving a St. Mary’s school bus and a Ford Ranger was reported Tuesday at 3:19 p.m. St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office, Maryland State Police and emergency services were called to the scene. Nobody was injured at the scene, a sheriff’s office deputy said.