NOTTINGHAM, MD (August 30, 2021) –– As the 2021-2022 school year gets underway across Maryland, AAA is urging all motorists to sharpen their driving skills and limit distractions, expressing increased concern around ‘back to school’ safety because of the school bus driver shortage and additional transportation issues related to COVID-19.
“In addition to the typical increase in traffic that occurs at the beginning of each school year, the school bus driver shortage means buses taking longer routes, students waiting at bus stops for longer periods of time, and more parents opting to drive their children to school,” says Ragina C. Ali, Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “While the return to school and our roads will look different this year, our responsibility for keeping students safe hasn’t changed.”
Back-to-school transportation affects not only school districts, students, and parents, but also other drivers on the roads. For some kids, it will be the first time they’ve been at a bus stop or on a bus in more than a year. For many adults who spent last year working from home, it may be the first time they’ve had to share the road with school buses in more than a year, as well.
“Drivers are out of practice when it comes to the rules of the roads with schools buses and students walking and biking to school,” Ali adds. “It is critical that they remember those rules – and abide by them.”
AAA advises all drivers to prepare for possible changes in and around school zones:
- Staggered schedules, social distancing and the bus driver shortage could mean school buses on the roads to transport students for longer periods of time in the morning and afternoon.
- Some parents may opt to transport their children to and from school, avoiding the school bus and increasing the volume of vehicles during drop-off and pick-up.
- More students may take to walking or biking to school, increasing foot and bike traffic close to schools.
- Improperly sized or incorrectly worn masks can limit a child’s vision and could put them at risk for not recognizing or seeing dangers in and along the road or in the bus loop.
“Expect the unexpected!” Ali says. “Drivers should slow down, avoid distractions and be on the lookout for walkers, bicyclists and buses. Share the road with them and make sure everyone is safe.”
Maryland’s School Bus Traffic Law
- If a school vehicle has stopped on a roadway and is operating flashing red lights, the driver of any other vehicle on the roadway shall stop at least 20 feet from the school vehicle, and may not proceed until the school vehicle either resumes motion or the red lights are deactivated.
- Drivers on the opposite side of a divided highway are not required to stop.
- Not stopping for a school bus can result in costly fines to motorists. A $570 citation and up to 3 points can be assessed to a license for failure to stop for a school bus that is flashing red lights, according to Maryland State Police.
AAA offers the following tips as schools begin to reopen:
AAA School Bus Safety Tips
- Always Stop for School Buses – Flashing yellow lights on a school bus indicate it is preparing to stop to load or unload children and motorists should slow down and prepare to stop. Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate the bus has stopped and children are getting on and off. Drivers are required to stop their vehicles and wait until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop sign is withdrawn and the bus begins moving before they can start driving again. Even if the lights and stop sign are not activated, and the bus is loading or unloading students, drivers must stop.
- Keep Track of Time – Be aware of the time of day you’re on the road and how that coincides with the school day. More school-age pedestrians are killed from 7 to 8 a.m. and from 3 to 4 p.m. than any other hours of the day.
- Slow Down – Whether in a school zone or residential neighborhood, drivers should keep their speed low and be prepared to stop quickly for increased vehicle or pedestrian traffic.
- Come to a complete stop. Always come to a complete stop, checking carefully for children on sidewalks and in crosswalks before proceeding.
- Eliminate distractions. Research shows that taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles your chances of crashing. Children can be quick, crossing the road unexpectedly or emerging suddenly between two parked cars. Reduce risk by not using your cell phone while driving.
- Obey Traffic Signs – Unfortunately, many motorists violate stop signs in school zones and residential neighborhoods –many failing to come to a complete stop, rolling through a stop sign or not slowing down at all.
AAA Drop-Off/Pick-Up Safety Tips
- Follow school drop-off and pick-up procedures – these may have changed.
- Don’t double park, it blocks visibility for other children and vehicles.
- Don’t load or unload children across the street from the school.
- Have children exit the vehicle on the “curb side” every time, so they aren’t opening the car door into an oncoming traffic lane or crossing around the front/back of the car to get to the curb.
- Slow down, eliminate distractions, and watch for children.
AAA Pedestrian Safety Tips
- Cross only at corners so drivers can see you. Never cross between parked cars or mid-block.
- Use a crosswalk when it’s available. Don’t assume that because you can see the driver, the driver can see you. Always use caution when crossing.
- Look all ways before crossing. Look and listen for cars, pedestrians and bicyclists.
- Cross right when the light turns green so you have time to cross safely.
- Use the crosswalk push-button signal when possible, and cross when the signal allows.
- Watch for cars that are turning left or right when you are crossing.
- Walk on a sidewalk when it is provided. If you must walk in the street, walk facing traffic, on the left side of the road and as far to the left as possible.
- Make it easy for drivers to see you – dress in light colors, wear reflective material or use a flashlight.
- Remove headphones and don’t use cell phones or electronic devices when crossing the street.
- Watch for white lights on vehicles signaling backing up in driveways or parking lots.
- Avoid walking alone. Walk with a friend.
AAA Bicycle Safety Tips
- Make sure your child has the skills to ride a bike safely, such as riding in a straight line and signaling to vehicles when turning.
- Choose the safest route to bike to school, one with less traffic and slower speeds. Use bike paths if they are available.
- Make sure your cyclists understand traffic safety rules, such as riding in the same direction as traffic and stopping at all stop signs and signals.
- Explain the importance of wearing a bike helmet to your child. They’re critical to minimizing injury in case of a crash. According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, wearing a helmet can reduce the odds of head injury by half.
- Ride focused and alert. Never use earbuds or electronics while riding.
Additional Back to School Safety Resources: School’s Open, Drive Carefully