School is officially back in session today across the Mid-Shore, and that means the big yellow buses are on the roads once again.

Commuters may find they need to leave the house a little earlier in the morning, and we know it can be asking a lot, especially when the sun continues to rise later with each passing day. Exacerbated by those end-of-summer blues, it can be hard for some of us who are not “morning people” to function when it’s still dark out and the coffee hasn’t kicked in yet.

But there is one very important reason why it’s good to be alert and making decent time: Our region’s children and youth are out there on the roads as well.

Waiting patiently behind a school bus, and stopping when those flashing lights kick on and the red stop arm comes out, is key to keeping students safe on their own morning commutes to school.

Maryland saw an uptick in school bus stop-arm violations over 2017, according to a 2018 Maryland State Department of Education survey released last October. On a single day in spring 2018, when the survey was conducted, school bus drivers recorded a total of 3,812 stop-arm violations versus 3,384 the year before. Though, 2016 still remains the recent high water mark for the survey when 4,334 violations were counted on a single day. While that may seem like a lot, keep in mind these numbers are statewide, and that figure represents a nearly 2,700 violation decrease from the first year the survey was conducted, in 2011, when 7,011 violations were recorded in a single day in the state.

So we are making progress. But as State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon said in a release, “It is illegal to pass a bus with its stop arm extended and its lights flashing. Our newest survey results show there remains much room for improvement. One violation of the Stop Arm is one too many.”

It’s important to keep the momentum going to remind drivers of the rules regarding school buses and what’s at stake.

Drivers must stop 20 feet behind or in front of a school bus that has its stop arm down and lights flashing, the only exception being when there is a physical barrier, such as a median. Drivers traveling in the same direction as the bus are always required to stop, according to the Motor Vehicle Administration. Vehicles cannot pass the bus until the flashing red lights and signals are turned off. Never pass on the right side of the bus, where students enter or exit.

Violations can result in a citation and fine and, worse, in tragic consequences.

In addition to obeying school bus laws, it’s also crucial for drivers to stop and look both ways at crosswalks, particularly in school zones, as kids may be crossing the street to get to school from now through next June. Slow down when driving past neighborhood bus stops as well; you never know when a child might inadvertently dart into oncoming traffic.

The MVA also asks drivers to be aware when backing out of their driveways or garages, keeping a lookout for any children in the neighborhood who may be walking or bicycling to school.

And safety works both ways. The MVA also offers tips for parents to teach their children about bus stop behaviors that can limit the risks of a potentially damaging accident. For these and other bus stop safety advice, go to www.mva.maryland.gov/safety/mhso/program-kids.htm.

We could all do with a refresher on the rules of sharing our transportation route with school buses.

So keep these driving tips in mind and try not to grumble when you find yourself stuck behind the bus. It’s a small price to pay to ensure Mid-Shore students have a safe school year on the road.

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