Important lessons as classes get under way

TRAFFIC TALK

August 31, 2004|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

IT'S THAT time of year, folks. Yesterday, teary-eyed parents waved goodbye to their children on the first day of school as the yellow school buses lumbered away.

In addition to that annual ritual, I have one of my own: ranting at all the drivers who speed by buses that are being loaded or unloaded.

Seeing the large, yellow vehicles seems to bring out the worst in drivers. The buses are slow, yes. And, they make many stops. And, it is horribly inconvenient to be behind one, especially when you're in a rush.

But you still have to obey the law: If a school bus has its red lights flashing, stop at least 25 feet away, until the lights go off and the bus starts moving.

Seems simple enough.

Yet in the past, I've seen even school buses zoom by an unloading school bus with its red lights flashing. I helped get that bus driver fired.

Mary Jo Neil, a reader, notes that beginning Oct. 1 Maryland law is changing.

The maximum fine for failing to stop or remain stopped for a school vehicle with activated alternately flashing red lights will be $1,000 (not nearly enough in my opinion).

Under the existing law, the maximum number of points that can be assessed a violator is three. However, a police officer must witness the violation. Otherwise, the best you can do is take down the time of day and the violator's license number and call the police (not 911) to report the incident. The police will contact the erring driver and issue a warning.

Sometimes unusual situations exist in which you may pass a school bus that is being loaded or unloaded. Ms. Neil explains: "My children's bus stops on Route 32, which is a major state highway. The bus uses its red flashing lights, and traffic in both directions is required to stop. This is because the bus stops on a traffic lane. Whereas a mile down the road, the bus stops on the shoulder of the road and uses its amber lights, which means traffic can continue to pass. This is a unique situation [that] needs to be highlighted" because of speed, the high traffic count [28,000 vehicles a day], and different types of vehicles that use Route 32.

So remember: yellow lights, keep moving. Red lights: stop.

Rules for riders

On the other side of the coin, parents must educate their children on how to behave in and around school buses. Here are some basic rules:

It is important to look carefully to the left, right and left again if you have to cross the street.

When you are waiting for the school bus, you should wait at the bus stop and stand well back from the curb. Don't move from the curb until the bus is stopped.

When you get off the bus, look to the rear of the bus before you step off the bottom step. Unfortunately, unless a bus is pulled to the curb, more motorists are passing stopped school buses on the right shoulder, where the door is.

Take 10 steps straight out of the bus door and out of the danger zone to ensure the driver can see you.

If you have to cross in front of the bus, make sure you have eye contact with the driver, and wait for the driver to signal you before crossing.

Never go back for anything you have left on the bus - you can get it tomorrow. The bus driver can't see children who are too close to the bus. Every year, I hear of horror stories somewhere in the United States of children hit by a school bus that had just dropped them off.

Never bend down near or under the bus.

Once on the bus, children should also follow these rules:

Sit quietly in your seat.

Speak quietly to other children near you.

Do not jump up and down, fight or tease other passengers .

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at elison@us.net, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia, 21044. Please include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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