Maryland sees drop in motorists illegally passing school buses as students board and exit

Maryland school bus drivers saw a decrease in the number of drivers illegally passing their buses when the stop arm was extended last year, according to a survey sponsored by the state Department of Education.

Stop arms, or automated flashing stop signs, extend from the sides of school buses whenever the vehicle stops to load or unload students. It is illegal to pass a school bus when the stop arm is extended and the lights are on.

On a single day last spring, bus drivers across the state recorded 3,384 violations. This represents a decrease of about 1,000 violations from the previous year, according to the Maryland State Department of Education.

“Drivers have made important progress, but one violation of the stop arm is one too many when student safety is our paramount concern,” state superintendent of schools Karen Salmon said in a statement.

More than 623,000 students across the state are eligible for school bus transportation, including about 38,300 in Baltimore, according to 2014-15 data, the most recent available.

Every year, an average of 19 school-aged passengers are killed nationwide getting on and off the school bus, according to the state Motor Vehicle Administration. The time of greatest risk is when students are approaching or leaving the bus, within 10 feet on either side, dubbed “The Danger Zone.”

Still, children are safer getting to school in school buses than in cars. Children are 70 times more likely to get to school safely in a school bus versus a car, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“Maryland schools this year opened to record enrollment, and all drivers must re-double their attention on traffic laws and the safety of our children,” Salmon said.

This survey has been conducted in Maryland each year since 2011, when about 7,000 violations were reported in one day.

Last April, about 5,500 bus drivers across all 24 school systems took part in the survey. State education officials consider it a snapshot of illegal activity on the roads.

School system officials, bus drivers and law enforcement have worked to raise awareness about stop arm violations over the past seven years.

Not surprisingly, large systems with more buses and bus routes recorded the highest number of violations, though nearly all saw a decrease when compared to the year before.

Baltimore City was one of the few where violations increased, rising to 152 in 2017, from 128 the year before.

School systems with the largest number of stop arm violations:

1. Baltimore County (2016: 1,002, 2017: 767)

2. Montgomery County (2016: 999, 2017: 661)

3. Prince George’s County (2016: 658, 2017: 475)

4. Anne Arundel County (2016: 498, 2017: 451)

5. Howard County (2016: 253, 2017: 189)

trichman@baltsun.com

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