School buses on the road again -- drive safely


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

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

Except that's a good thing.

They reduce the need for quite a few car trips, and they keep our kids safer. According to Glen Johnson, director of transportation for Howard County schools, students are safer in school buses than in cars.

The No. 1 place in which serious accidents occur is at the bus stop -- usually caused by motorists not yielding to a school bus loading or unloading students.

Let's be honest here. Raise your hand if you've ever zoomed by a school bus with yellow flashing lights. Don't let it happen again. It's 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 again.

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 gets started. (Motorists on the other side of a divided highway or street do not have to stop.)

But the sad fact is that the number of motorists ticketed for ignoring school buses stopped with red lights flashing has more than doubled since 2001, when 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.

"There were 1,983 citations or warnings issued [in Maryland] for school bus-related violations during the [last] fiscal year, more than double the 981 citations issued in 2001," noted Chuck Jackson, president of Citizen Advocates for Safe & Efficient Travel.

"Every time a motorist violates this law, it is a tragedy waiting to happen," he said.

Conflicting signals?

Roy Gingrich noted that the Ridge Road/U.S. 40 intersection recently was listed as a top accident location in Howard County. "One cause may be a conflict in the traffic signal setup," he suggested.

Noting that, on occasion, when he comes south out of Wal-Mart on Ridge Road to turn right (with a green arrow) onto U.S. 40, he has encountered "irate drivers turning left" from either Ridge Road on the opposite side of U.S. 40 or from U.S. 40 eastbound.

"From their expressions, I surmise they have a green arrow also and rightly think I am making a right turn on red," he said.

"The main problem is that there are opposing green arrow movements at the same time," he said. He asked me to have this "checked out" before there are more accidents at this location.

I wish I had the power to change every confusing traffic configuration. But since I don't, I went straight to the State Highway Administration.

SHA spokeswoman Kellie Boulware confirmed that there is a left-turn arrow for drivers turning from eastbound U.S. 40 to Ridge Road and there is a right-turn arrow for drivers turning from Ridge Road onto westbound U.S. 40 and that, as Gringrich indicated, both arrows come on simultaneously.

Boulware also said that the right-turn arrow is referred to as an "overlap" phase and is common throughout the state. It is used to operate the intersection more efficiently when there is a large volume of right-turning traffic. "The overlap phase enables more vehicles to execute the turn in a shorter time as compared to drivers stopping and then making a right turn on a red signal," she said.

She also noted that this intersection has a fairly constant volume of U-turn traffic on eastbound U.S. 40 generating from the Triangle Shopping Center to the south.

"In 2003, SHA installed an overhead sign on eastbound U.S. 40 facing the U-turn driver that states `U-TURN YIELD TO ALL TRAFFIC.' This same sign is also installed at U.S. 40/Rogers Avenue," she said.

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 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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