- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Drivers continue to pass stopped school buses, according to a state survey, but new procedures put in place this year and a plan for exterior cameras on some St. Mary’s buses to catch violators could help, school officials said.
The statewide survey of bus drivers showed motorists passed buses thousands of times on one random day last spring when stop sign arms were extended and lights flashed red. The number of reported incidents was down significantly compared to two years ago but still demonstrates the need for more awareness on the roads, school officials said.
In St. Mary’s 104 buses, or just over half of the fleet, responded to the survey, Jeff Thompson, director of transportation, said. There were 85 violations reported — 35 in the morning, three during midday runs and 47 in afternoon on the day of the survey last April.
“You could say that’s probably a typical day,” he said.
Thompson said that a majority of the violations (48) were by vehicles coming the opposite direction of the bus.
Those violators coming from behind (37) likely either passed on a multi-lane road or when the bus was pulled over on a turning lane but still had its red lights on, he said. In both of those cases vehicles should have stopped.
All but one violation occurred as a vehicle passed on the driver’s side of a bus, according to the report.
The St. Mary’s school transportation department changed its procedures this school year. Buses are no longer permitted to pull onto shoulders or turn lanes to pick up or drop off students. They will remain in the travel lane with red lights on to help avoid confusion for other motorists, Thompson said.
He said next year’s survey might show a difference in the number of violations thanks to the new procedures.
Another deterrent that is planned for this year is exterior cameras on some buses to catch motorists who illegally pass the stopped buses.
Thompson said school transportation officials are meeting with the sheriff’s office this week to review a possible contract for the cameras, which could be installed within a few months on select buses in targeted areas.
The Maryland State Department of Education considers the one-day survey a snapshot of illegal activity on the roads.
On average, nearly seven in 10 bus drivers participating in the statewide survey witnessed a violation. A total of 3,392 violations of school bus stop arms were recorded on the single day last April during the survey. About 71 percent of Maryland school buses responded.
The number of overall violations is down significantly from two years ago (7,011 reported violations), even though a higher percentage of buses participated this year.
“Drivers must understand that it is illegal to pass a bus with its stop arm extended and its lights flashing,” State Superintendent Lillian M. Lowery said in a statement. “While we are gratified with the progress being made, we want to emphasize that every student of ours is precious. There are no excuses for this violation.”
Not surprisingly, large systems with more buses and bus routes noted the most violators. Montgomery County school bus drivers tallied the most — 1,078 drivers ignoring the stop arm, followed by Prince George’s County drivers that reported 599 violations and Baltimore County with 499 violations.
Drivers in three small counties — Kent, Somerset and Talbot — did not report any violations.