Some school bus drivers said to flout laws that are meant to safeguard our children

TRAFFIC TALK

December 11, 2005|By JODY K. VILSCHICK

Judging by the comments I've received over the years, I'm beginning to believe there is nothing we drivers love to hate more than those lumbering yellow school buses. We particularly hate it when the bus drivers to whom we entrust our children flout the laws written to keep our children safe.

"I was going down Montgomery Road [recently] and came upon a stopped school bus (headed northbound), red lights flashing at Lynn Lane (across from Hunting Horn). There were several cars stopped on both sides of Montgomery. Another school bus came up to the stop sign at Hunting Horn, and while the red lights of the other school bus were still on [the second bus] turned right, went down Montgomery toward Kerger Road and then turned left up Kerger Road," Brian McAllister recalled.

Clem Williamson also has observed some dubious driving by school bus operators. He noted that in the course of his morning and afternoon commutes he often finds himself behind one particular bus, and he ends up following it ... to [and from] school.

"I can say without question that every time I observed the bus, the driver was operating it in some way that ignored the traffic laws -- usually only speeding. The second-most frequent offense was rolling through stop signs, most often at school when leaving the driveway!" he said. He also worried that the bus driver sometimes ignored the prohibition against turning right on red, as well as the prohibition against "jumped lights" -- pulling into an intersection before the light turns green.

And remember that children on school buses are not buckled up or protected by airbags as they would be in their parents' cars.

Mr. McAllister asked, "Don't school buses have to obey the same laws as other drivers?"

According to Howard County police Officer Brandon Justice, school bus drivers must obey all the rules that other drivers must follow. "Buses are not exempt from obeying other buses' stop lights and signs or any Maryland vehicle law," he said.

And the police try to do something to ensure that our kids' bus drivers operate their vehicles safely. "School bus safety is of the utmost concern to our department. In fact, throughout the school year, officers in unmarked cars randomly shadow buses on their morning and afternoon routes," Justice said.

And the result? "Tickets have been issued for buses [and other motorists] passing school bus stop lights and for excessive speed in school zones," Justice said.

Although the Police Department's Traffic Section has received a few complaints about school buses passing other buses, Justice said this was fairly uncommon. So what should an anxious parent or worried motorist do if they observe bad driving by a school bus driver?

"The school system's Pupil Transportation Department takes any complaints they receive very seriously and, in turn, contacts the Police Department's Traffic Enforcement Section," Justice said. "The best thing any motorist can do who observes a bus being operated in an irresponsible manner is obtain the bus number and call [school system's] Pupil Transportation [Department] at 410- 313-6732."

In addition to the bus number, it is also important to note when and where the poor driving occurred.

Mr. Williamson also had something to say about a recent column in which I noted that bus drivers are allowed to talk on their cell phones while operating a bus. In this case, he defended the drivers. "Someone on the bus must have a means of communication, otherwise how would the schools be able to announce that a certain bus is running late?"

Just because you carry a cell phone doesn't mean you need to be yapping on it. I think it is acceptable for school bus drivers to use cell phones in an emergency or to keep school administrators informed if the bus is running very late. But other than these two situations, there is no need to be chatting on a cell phone while driving a bus full of kids. There are enough distractions already.

Slow down

Several readers promptly responded to last week's column providing tips for safer winter driving, but Ken White was the first to point out what was missing from the list of tips. "And the mystery missing tip is .... slow down!" he said. "An icy patch on the road doesn't distinguish between SUVs and other vehicles. Everyone just needs to slow down."

What is your driving dilemma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at Traf ficTalk@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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