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School bus stop violations diminishing, but not enough [Editorial]

Like turning a battleship around in the ocean, steering unsafe public behavior in a different direction can seem an agonizingly slow process. When the behavior is intolerable, it is all the more frustrating.

This is the case with the frequency of a dangerous traffic violation — drivers blowing past school buses that are stopped to pick up or drop off school children.

In 2011, the Maryland State Department of Education began an annual survey. On a single school day in spring, the department asked school bus drivers to keep count of each violation he or she observed. The results were startling — with 65 percent of bus drivers (4,658 drivers) responding, the number of violations was 7,011 statewide.

This year, with 72 percent of bus drivers participating, total violations counted in Maryland were almost exactly half of what they were three years earlier — 3,505.

In Howard County, bus drivers responding in the first year of the survey were a meager 11 percent of the total. They spotted 65 violators. In succeeding years, violations counted began to go up, but so did the percentage of bus drivers participating. In the spring of 2014, however, a dramatic change was apparent — with 100 percent of bus drivers taking part in the county, the number of violations stood at 41.

Any number above zero is unacceptable. Our school buses carry the most precious of all cargos. Nationwide, an average of 15 children are killed at school bus stops each year, according to the National School Bus Loading and Unloading Survey.

School bus cameras, which are mounted on the bus and snap photos of the license plate of violators, are an emerging technology and are currently in use in Frederick County. A violation caught on camera carries a $250 fine. Not surprisingly, violations are down in that county.

As awareness grows — and the statistics show it is — it's time for tougher enforcement, including more cameras on buses and higher fines. Scofflaw drivers need to feel the pain.

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