Sr. Public Relations Specialist, MD
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TOWSON, MD (November 12, 2018) –– The recent tragic spate of school bus stop crashes and school bus loading and unloading crashes over the past few weeks serve as a somber reminder about the importance of school bus safety.
Motorists need to be particularly diligent about slowing down, avoiding distractions and staying alert during the morning and afternoon hours when school buses are more likely to be on the road, reminds AAA Mid-Atlantic. The switch to Standard Time last Sunday means many motorists are now facing the threat of sun glare during the morning commute.
AAA, the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration and other agencies are working together to promote school bus safety to drivers. Efforts include electronic highway message signs on US 40, US 50, US 301 and other arterial routes; social media messaging and grassroots outreach through the Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Safety and Education.
“School buses are very special vehicles out there on Maryland roads every day. Drivers must stay alert for school buses and what is happening around them with the children who rely upon them for safe travel to and from school,” said MDOT SHA Administrator Greg Slater. “On undivided highways with no physical median or barrier, drivers in both directions must stop when school buses extend ‘stop’ arms and activate red lights.”
Despite last week’s crash in Anne Arundel County involving an SUV colliding with a school bus and another recent crash in Montgomery County, the school bus remains the safest vehicle on the road, keeping children safer while traveling to and from school than traveling by car, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
“The greatest risk to your child is not riding a bus, but approaching or leaving one,” said Ragina Cooper Averella, Manager of Public and Government Affairs at AAA Mid-Atlantic. “It’s important that parents, students, teachers, motorists, school bus operators, school administrators, and other safety advocates join forces to build awareness of the importance of school bus safety.”
Every day, nationwide approximately 500,000 school buses transport more than 23 million students to and from school. However, each year, nationally, about 24 school-aged children are killed in school transportation-related traffic crashes.
In addition to following the rules of the road, motorists are also reminded to put away phones and other distractions to keep focused on the road as buses can stop and start frequently, picking up and dropping off students,” Averella added. “Changing weather conditions and shortened daylight hours can make for particularly dangerous situations.”
AAA and the MD State Highway Administration offer these tips for students taking the bus and for motorists sharing the road:
While Waiting at the Bus Stop
- Have children wait in a location where the bus driver can easily see them while driving down the street.
- Do not let children play in or near the street. Playing with balls or other toys that could roll into the street is also dangerous.
- Stand at least three giant steps (6 feet) away from the curb.
Children should be reminded to obey the AAA School Safety Patrol, crossing guard, officer or supervising adult, if present.
Getting On and Off the Bus
- Children should wait until the bus comes to a complete stop, the door opens, and the driver says it’s okay before approaching the bus door to get onto or off the bus. Your child should use the handrails to avoid falling.
- Warn children that if they drop something getting on and off the bus, they should never attempt to pick it up. Instead, they should tell the driver and follow the driver’s instructions.
- Remind children to stop at the edge of the bus and look left and right before crossing.
- Your child should never walk behind a school bus. If your child must cross the street in front of the bus, tell him/her to walk on a sidewalk or along the side of the street to a place at least five giant steps (10 feet) in front of the bus before crossing. Your child should also make eye contact with the bus driver before crossing to make sure the driver can see him/her.
If you meet your child at the bus stop after school, wait on the side where the child will be dropped off, not across the street. Children can be so excited to see you after school that they dash across the street and forget the safety rules.
- Slow down. Watch for children walking to and from the bus stop, as well as standing at the bus stop. Watch for children walking in the street, especially if the neighborhood has no sidewalks.
- Be mindful when backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage. Watch for children walking or bicycling to school.
- Yellow flashing lights on a school bus mean that a bus is preparing to stop. Do not try to pass the bus. Begin slowing and prepare to stop your vehicle.
Red flashing lights indicate that a bus has stopped to load or unload children. Stop your car and wait for the bus lights to stop flashing before moving your vehicle. Passing a loading or unloading school bus is reckless driving.
For motorists, being caught behind a school bus can be frustrating and may require additional patience at times. Unfortunately, many Maryland motorists are not patient according to a recent survey from the Maryland Department of Education that found motorists were not stopping for school buses when the bus stop arm was extended.
The survey found on a single day this past spring, a total of 3,812 violations were recorded of motorists not stopping when school bus stop arms were extended compared to 3,384 observed violations in 2017, an increase of nearly 13 percent.
The department’s survey showed that, “Large systems with more buses and bus routes noted the most violators. Montgomery County tallied the most – 1038, followed closely by 677 witnessed by Baltimore County school bus drivers.”
It is important to know that all 50 states have laws surrounding school bus safety and ignoring those laws can result in hefty fines. AAA’s Digest of Motor Laws provides information on each state’s law related to buses.
Maryland’s School Bus Traffic Law
If a school vehicle has stopped on a roadway and is operating flashing red lights, the driver of any other vehicle on the roadway shall stop at least 20 feet from the school vehicle, and may not proceed until the school vehicle either resumes motion or the red lights are deactivated.
Drivers on the opposite side of a divided highway are not required to stop.
Not stopping for a school bus can result in costly fines to motorists, according to the Maryland State Police.
A $570 citation and up to 3 points can be assessed to a license for failure to stop for a school bus that is flashing red lights.
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