Let's keep school-bus-passing violations on the decline [Editorial]

Growing realization has a way of bringing changes in the law. Take drunken driving. Decades ago, it was taken less seriously than it is now. But as the public began to see the carnage caused by intoxicated motorists, punishment became accordingly more severe.

So it is happening with another form of reckless driving behavior — blowing past school buses that are stopped for children to board or disembark.

This maneuver is dangerous on multiple levels. It is worse than running a red light because the bus creates an enormous blind spot for the motorist blowing past and, of course, children, impetuous and unpredictable by nature, are always present.

The Maryland State Department of Education recently posted the results of its third annual survey on bus-passing violations. The survey showed that violations have dropped by more than half since 2011. Fortunately, these violations are decreasing in frequency. The survey, conducted statewide by bus drivers keeping count on a single day in April as a "snapshot" of the problem, found 3,392 violations, down from 7,011 in 2011. Yet, by extrapolating out to 180 school days in a year, this still indicates more than half a million violations in a school year.

The numbers may be down, but they are still too high.

Drivers who do not stop for a school bus in Maryland and get caught are hit with a fine of $570 and get three points on their license. Drivers who stop but drive past before the bus stop arm closes face the same fine, with two points on their license.

While penalties in other states include fines of up to $1,000, up to five points on the license, mandatory attendance at driver safety classes and even a two-month suspension of a driver's license, we think the current penalties in Maryland seem to be working. We encourage the state Department of Education to continue its survey by counting violators to make sure it stays that way. If the numbers don't keep dropping, then maybe at that time the harsher penalties should be explored.

Meanwhile, classes are back in session now and the school buses are once again delivering their precious cargo. Drivers need to slow down when they see school buses and take great care in keeping our children safe.

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