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School bus drivers' one-day survey tallies motorist violations

March 27, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • A Washington County Public Schools bus stops traffic to let students exit the bus at Maugans Avenue near the intersection with U.S. 11
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — A one-day survey by school bus drivers found 88 incidents in which drivers in Washington County did not stop for a school bus that had stopped to pick up or drop off students, Washington County Public Schools officials said.

The Maryland State Department of Education on Feb. 10 sponsored a survey in which more than 4,712 school bus drivers were asked to note how many times motorists violated the school vehicle law, passing a school bus illegally, according to a state education department news release and Barbara Scotto, Washington County Public Schools’ supervisor of transportation.

The survey recorded 7,028 violations statewide, according to the news release.

In Washington County, 126 school bus drivers noted 88 violations, school system officials said. That accounted for 126 of 199 public school bus routes in the county.

While the survey did not track the location of the violations, Scotto said Maugans Avenue and Dual Highway have been problem areas.

School bus drivers are required to warn motorists they are about to stop by turning on amber alert lights atop the bus 100 feet before the bus stop, Scotto said.

When the bus stops, the driver hits a button that simultaneously opens the door, turns on red flashing lights, swings out a stop sign on the driver’s side and swings out a crossing arm on the front side of the bus, Scotto said. The crossing arm swings out 90 degrees so students have to walk around it rather than walk in front of the school bus bumper, she said.

When the school bus stops, other motorists must stop at least 20 feet from the front or rear of the bus, said Sgt. K.D. Scheer with Maryland State Police.

If there is a physical barrier between opposing lanes, such as a grassy median, Jersey wall, curbing or row of trees, only motorists in the lanes traveling in the same direction as the school bus must stop, Scotto said.

But if the road has no barrier between opposing lanes, such as on Maugans Avenue, motorists in all lanes must stop, Scotto said.

“Regardless of the number of lanes, motorists are to stop for flashing lights,” Scotto said.

“It is driver ignorance. ... They either don’t understand, don’t know the law or aren’t willing to abide by the law,” Scotto said.

Proposed laws

The statewide survey was done at the request of several state lawmakers because the Maryland General Assembly has been considering bills to strengthen school bus safety, according to the news release from the state education department.

Some bills deal with overtaking and passing school vehicles, and would let school boards statewide install cameras on school buses to record motorists as they pass a bus. Bus drivers would be required to turn tapes of violators over to local police, according to the proposals.

On Thursday, a Senate committee approved a bill that would let county boards of education place cameras on buses to monitor other vehicles, sending the bill to the full Senate to consider.

As a result of approving the statewide bill, the committee decided not to vote on a similar bill affecting only Frederick County, Md.
The proposed bills can be found online at http://mlis.state.md.us/2011rs/subjects/schoolb.htm.

Currently, Washington County Public Schools has cameras inside buses to monitor students, but none on the outside of the buses, Scotto said.

Violators

When they can do so, school bus drivers already note license plate numbers of violators, Scotto said. That information is shared with police. In many cases, she said, bus drivers can’t get that information because they are watching students and traffic.

If the bus driver has enough information to identify the registered owner of the vehicle, Scheer said, state police send the owner a warning letter with the date and time of the violation.

Otherwise, bus drivers note which bus stops are problem areas so police can be notified, Scotto said.

The school system works with state police and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office to occasionally monitor trouble spots such as Maugans Avenue and Dual Highway, Scotto said.

As of March 17, Scheer estimated about 30 citations and warnings had been issued this school year for drivers in Washington County who didn’t stop when required.

The sheriff’s office issued 40 citations from Aug. 1, 2010, through March 17, 2011, Lt. Art Overcash said.

The penalty for violating the school bus-stop law is $570 and two or three points on the driver’s license, Scheer said. Failure to remain stopped for a school bus is a two-point violation and failure to stop for a stopped school bus is a three-point violation.

During the Feb. 10 survey, 63 drivers who were coming from the opposite direction passed a school bus; 19 drivers passed school buses from behind on the school bus driver’s side; and six drivers passed school buses on the right side of the bus where the door opens, school system officials said.

Staff writer Andrew Schotz contributed to this story.

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