Drivers should always yield to school bus laws


September 04, 2005|By Jody K. Vilschick | Jody K. Vilschick,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

IT'S SEPTEMBER, which means it's school time and means those yellow, slow, annoying school buses are once again crowding our roads.

Except that's a good thing.

Not only do they reduce the need for quite a few car trips, but they also keep our kids safer. According to Glenn J. Johnson, director of transportation for Howard County public schools, students are safer in school buses than in cars. But the No. 1 place where serious accidents occur is at the bus stop - usually caused by motorists not yielding to a school bus either loading or unloading students.

Let's be honest here. Raise your hand if you've ever zoomed by a school bus with yellow lights flashing. A feeling of guilt nips at you as the yellow turns to red. Well, don't let it happen again. It's just too dangerous.

If children's safety isn't enough to convince you, there's the law. If a school bus is stopped with its red lights flashing on an undivided highway or street, all motorists must stop at least 20 feet from the front or rear of the school bus and remain stopped until the bus starts moving.

If the bus is stopped, with red lights flashing, on a divided highway or street, then all motorists traveling in the same direction as the school bus must stop at least 20 feet from the rear of the bus and remain stopped until the bus moves. The motorists on the other side of a physical barrier or unpaved area of the divided highway or street don't have to stop.

The sad fact is that the number of motorists cited for ignoring school buses stopped with red lights flashing has more than doubled since 2001. That year, the state-financed School Bus Safety Enforcement Fund was established to allow police departments to apply for grants to help pay for enforcement of traffic laws involving school buses. In 2001, there were 981 motorists cited for passing loading or unloading school buses.

"There were 1,983 citations or warnings issued for school bus-related violations during the [last] fiscal year, more than double the 981 citations issued in 2001," said Chuck Jackson, president of Citizen Advocates for Safe & Efficient Travel. "Every time a motorist violates this law, it is a tragedy waiting to happen."

Traffic-calming devices

It's bad enough that they're trying to slow us down, but then they let the traffic-calming devices get ugly. The injustice of it all.

But Joe Ray accepts the rationale for traffic-calming islands and roundabouts. He just wants them to look nicer.

"I understand the idea of the traffic-calming islands that have been installed the past few years along Waugh Chapel Road in Odenton," he said.

"A small island in the middle of the street can somehow slow the traffic, but no thought was put into what happens to these islands after they are installed," he said. "On Waugh Chapel Road and (others in the county I'm sure) the wood chips are now filled with weeds and trash, and the cement curbs are feeling the effects of snow plows and road salt and are falling apart. The county should replace the `Traffic calming ahead' signs with new ones that read `Community eye sore ahead.' Who can we talk to in order to get these islands cleaned up or removed?"

Because the eyesore is located on a county-maintained road in Anne Arundel County's "central maintenance district," you need to call 410-222-7940. But if such a weedy roundabout or traffic-calming island were located on a county road in the northern maintenance district, you would call 410-222-6120, or, in the southern district, 410-222-1933. To determine which district your road is in, go to If you don't have access to the Internet, look at a map and take a guess. The county will be happy to redirect you if necessary.

However, if you think it's a sight obstruction and it's at a county-maintained intersection or traffic island, then call the Traffic Engineering Division at 410-222-7331.

If the maintenance problem is on a state-maintained road in Anne Arundel County, call either the Glen Burnie Maintenance Facility, 410-766-3770, for numbered roads (roughly) north of the Severn River or U.S. 50; or the Annapolis Maintenance Facility, 410-841-1009, for numbered roads south and west of the Severn River or U.S. 50.

What's your traffic trauma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at TrafficTalk@, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Anne Arundel County, 60 West St., Suite 400, Annapolis 21401. Please include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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