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September 2, 2021

MARYLAND — The school year starts Sept. 3 for most Maryland school districts, so it's time for drivers to review the rules of the road as school buses and students return to the streets and mix with traffic. During a six-month period from August 2018 to March 2019, 12 children were killed and another 47 were injured while getting on and off school buses nationwide.

Bus stop-arms were extended at the time, which means that in Maryland and the 49 other states, drivers were required to come to a full stop. There are some differences in the state law. Maryland's law requires: If a school vehicle has stopped on a road and is operating the alternately flashing red lights, the driver of any vehicle following or approaching the school bust must stop at least 20 feet from the front or rear of the school vehicle, depending on the direction of travel. Drivers following or approaching the school bus may not proceed until the school vehicle moves or the flashing red lights are deactivated. This does not apply to the driver of a vehicle on a physically divided highway.

AAA Mid-Atlantic says that last year, 133 pedestrians were killed in Maryland and 214 school-aged children were injured while walking during school arrival and dismissal times.
The Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration reminds pedestrians and drivers to:

For pedestrians:
• Use sidewalks and marked crosswalks whenever possible.
• Press the pedestrian signal button and wait for the walk signal.
• Always stop at the curb and look left, right and left again before crossing a street.
• Watch for cars turning in or leaving driveways.
• Walk, don't run across the street.
• Wear light or bright colored clothing.
• Pay attention -- take off headphones while walking and no texting or playing games.

For drivers:
• Always stop for pedestrians.
• Obey traffic signs, signals and markings.
• Observe posted speed limits. Speeding only makes it more difficult to stop for pedestrians.
• Keep your eyes on the road. It's illegal to use a handheld phone/devise or text while driving.
• When a school bus stops, the flashing red lights go on and the stop sign flaps come out, drivers in BOTH directions are required to stop. This is the most dangerous time as children getting on or off the bus.
• It is against the law to pass a stopped school bus with its flashing red lights activated and stop arm extended.

The potential for fatal and injury accidents exists every day, according to the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services.

States are taking various approaches to the problem. For example, 22 states have now passed stop-arm camera laws to catch drivers who pass school buses when they're stopped to pick up or let off children. They include Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming.

"There are a multitude of options out there," National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services President Michael LaRocco told School Transportation News last year. "There's not one silver bullet out there, other than the simplest silver bullet — motorists need to pay attention to what's going on around them."

Research shows that driver distraction, especially with increased cellphone use, creates hazards on the road. But students are distracted, too, and don't always pay attention to traffic before they cross the road, sometimes because they're listening to music through earbuds or headphones.

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