Editorial: Know the laws and take school bus safety seriously

Public schools across Maryland, including here in Harford County, are back in session Tuesday, following the Labor Day holiday. Commuters may notice the extra cars and school buses on the road after enjoying lighter traffic during the summer months.

And while it may be frustrating to be stuck behind a school bus when you're trying to get to work or wherever you may be headed, here is a reminder that it is illegal in Maryland to pass a school bus when its flashing red lights are activated.


Break the law, and you can be fined up to $570 and receive up to three points on your driver’s license. Over the past five years, 229 citations have been issued to drivers passing school buses illegally in Harford County.

As the school year beings, law enforcement agencies tend to have more patrol officers out looking for drivers who are illegally passing buses or ignoring flashing lights.

This year, Harford County Sheriff’s deputies and other local police forces are trying a new approach.

Deputies and officers from other agencies will be boarding school buses and riding along on routes where drivers have reported a high number of violations, looking for drivers passing school buses illegally when red lights are activated and stop arms are extended. The deputy will then radio to a patrol officer working in the area and provide a license plate number or vehicle description in order to issue a citation. In some cases, a warning letter may be sent instead.

While the fine and points on your license are a steep price to pay, it pales in comparison to the worst-case scenario of passing a school bus -- you could take a child’s life.

School buses are surprisingly safe. In fact, students are nearly 70 times more likely to get to school safely in a bus than traveling by car, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Students face a far greater risk getting on and off the bus, according to the Maryland Department of Transportation bus safety guidelines.

While an average of seven school-age passengers are killed in school bus crashes each year, 19 are killed getting on and off the bus, according to the guidelines.

Recall that, less than a year ago, a 16-year-old North Harford High School student was struck and killed while running onto Norrisville Road in White Hall to catch his school bus.

That, too, should serve as a reminder to motorists to be vigilant, even when buses aren't necessarily in sight or have their lights activated, that students may be around walking to bus stops or to school.

Many drivers who pass a stopped school bus may do so because they are distracted or impatient, but there are still those who are unaware of the law.

So what exactly are the laws regarding passing a school bus?

Yellow flashing lights indicate that the bus is preparing to load or unload children. Motorists should slow down and prepare to stop vehicles. In same cases, bus drivers may stop and activate their yellow lights to wave other drivers past them.

However, when the red lights come on and the stop arm comes up, there should be little question: Stop.


Capt. Eric Gonzalez, supervisor of the Harford’s sheriff’s special operations division, which includes the traffic unit, said many of the problems with vehicles passing stopped buses arise on the county’s major roads where no median exists, typically with traffic going in the opposite direction.

Unless there is a median dividing the highway, motorists in both directions must come to a stop. Traffic must stop in both directions on two-lane roadways, including those with a center turning lane, and four-lane roads without a median. On a divided highway with a median, only traffic following the bus must stop.

Be patient, take safety on the road seriously and avoid putting young students lives at risk.