Mi­nor bus ac­ci­dent re­ported on first day

Schools, sher­iff’s of­fice urge mo­torists to be cau­tious

The Enterprise - - Front Page - By JAC­QUI ATKIELSKI jatkiel­ski@somd­news.com

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.

STAFF PHOTO BY JAC­QUI ATKIELSKI

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.

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