`Confusing' yellow lights on school buses


May 15, 2005|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

IT IS no wonder those yellow school buses are almost universally abhorred and despised by Maryland drivers. We just don't know what to do around them.

"Am I the only one who finds the yellow caution lights a bit confusing?" asked Don Oliver of Columbia. "Several times I have found myself in the limbo zone. I'm approaching a school bus from the opposite direction, the yellow caution lights are on. Do I stop, or keep going? Once I kept going and just as I reached the bus the driver changed to red lights, causing me to slam on my brakes to avoid passing a stopped school bus -- only to have the bus drive past me before stopping."

According to the Howard County police, Maryland law requires motorists to stop for a stopped school bus with red -- not yellow -- lights flashing. If a driver is passing a bus and the red lights go on as the motorist is passing, the motorist is not required to stop.

When motorists see a school bus with yellow lights flashing, they should take that as notice that the red lights will be coming on, just as at a traffic signal. The yellow light is your warning to start slowing down and prepare to stop.

But the situation might not always seem so simple.

Two weeks ago, this column discussed a little-known state law that says vehicles being operated on a separate roadway -- such as a highway with a grassy median -- do not have to stop for a loading or unloading school bus. But what if there is no median?

Robert Townsound wondered about what to do on a four-lane road with a center left-turn-only lane and no break in the pavement. He noted that two parallel concrete curbs -- the same height as curbs one would see on a parking lot -- run along the length of the left-turn-only lane for several miles, preventing vehicles from entering the center lane. There is no break in the pavement, but the resulting situation is now the same as if there was a grass median separating the two opposing lanes.

"Do oncoming vehicles have to stop for the stopped school bus with red flashing lights? I have observed some drivers stopping and some not. I realize the prudent thing to do would be to stop. Also, what about roadways separated by 5-foot-tall jersey barriers?"

According to the Howard County police, the law about not stopping for a loading or unloading school bus on a divided highway still applies. In both cases, you are not required to stop for a stopped school bus if the bus is stopped on the other side (opposing lane) of a divided highway.

A perplexing response

Last week's column about U.S. 29 south and how hard it is for drivers coming off Route 100 headed west to cross three lanes of traffic to exit at Route 108 westbound really rankled your rotors.

Among the record number of messages that landed in my inbox was Fred Polcari's. He noted that he recently sent an e-mail to the State Highway Administration recommending that signs be posted warning drivers on U.S. 29 to stay to the right. "Not only do cars on south U.S. 29 ride the left lane, but they do so at high speed, making it difficult for [traffic from] Route 100 to merge."

But SHA's response left him nonplussed. "Their response was incredible to me. They said they actually want U.S. 29 traffic to ride the left lane because there is so much traffic [that] they need all the lanes."

P.W. Craig takes Route 100 to get to his place of work, off Route 108.

"I have traveled 100 to [U.S.] 29, but the crazy drivers on 29 make it too harrowing a journey, so I jump off at Route 104 and make the jump to Route 108," he said. "The problem here is the HUGE number of experience-challenged high school drivers. I have seen some nutso maneuvers by the kids on their way to Howard High School."

The dilemma, he said, "is whether to risk it all on 29 or get t-boned by some kid in mom's car on the way to school.

"Forcing Route 108 traffic off at Route 104 would only make the problem worse. Route 108 is only a two-lane road and isn't designed for the traffic of a highway. Add to this the teen drivers and you have a recipe for disaster. It's bad enough as it is," he said.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at TrafficTalk@comcast.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. Include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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