Reading, writing and Road Rules: Basic Back to School Safety Tips to save lives and limbs

News Release, AAA

WASHINGTON, D. C. (Monday, September 2, 2019) ––The “Little Red Schoolhouse” isn’t red any longer, and it isn’t quite so little anymore. The state of Maryland boasts over 1,428 public school buildings, and on the day after Labor Day around 900,000 students, from prekindergarten through grade 12, will return or head for the first time to Maryland public schools. More than 1.2 million students are enrolled in over 2,200 public schools in 227 school Districts across Virginia. They will all be in session tomorrow. So will public, charter and private schools in the nation’s capital. DCPS boasts over 48,000 students.

Fairfax County, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County rank among the 25 largest school districts in the nation. With every schoolhouse back in session across the Washington metro area, roads in the region will be clogged with yellow school buses and automobiles, with parents ferrying or sending off their children to school “at the same time each morning.” For the sake of their safety, AAA Mid-Atlantic and the Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Safety and Education are urging parents, students and all motorists sharing the roads with school buses to put safety first with its annual School’s Open—Drive Carefully campaign.

“It is imperative that everyone who shares the road to prepare himself or herself for back to school, whether the person is a student or not,” said Leah Scully, Traffic Safety Specialist, Mid-Atlantic Foundation for Safety and Education. “Area drivers have had the roads to themselves since mid-June. As schools open across the Washington metro area, drivers must realize that their commute time may increase. Leaving home a little earlier in the mornings can help them get where they need to be on time and with less stress.”

“The new school year is a particularly dangerous time on area roadways. Every driver must obey school bus laws. Illegally passing stopped school buses is a serious and widespread problem, as documented by school bus stop arm camera violation video released by the Montgomery County Police Department,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “Distraction is dangerous in a school zone, as students who are distracted by phones and friends mix with drivers who are dealing with an increase in traffic and may be distracted themselves.”

Afternoons present additional risks because children are often distracted by thoughts of playtime and other activities on their journey home. Over the last decade nearly one in four child pedestrian fatalities occurred between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.  “Students, parents, teachers, administrators, transportation personnel and the motoring public all play important roles in keeping our children safe while on or around the school bus.” In Montgomery County, a 16-year-old was struck and tossed onto a hood of a car while crossing the street to board a school bus. The incident was captured by a school bus stop arm camera. Last November, a seven-year-old girl was hit and left critically injured by a truck after she stepped off her school bus in Charles County. 

This fall, the entire school bus fleet in Montgomery County – 1,387 yellow buses in all – is slated to be armed with school bus stop-arm cameras. During the 2018-2019 school year, 54,458 school bus stop arm citations were issued to drivers in Montgomery County. Caught in flagrante delicto, those errant drivers failed to stop for a school bus off-loading and on-loading students while the vehicle’s red lights are alternately flashing.  In addition to being dangerous, ignoring school bus stop arm rules will prove costly in Maryland. During its 2019 Session, members of the Maryland General Assembly opted to make permanent the higher maximum penalty for violations recorded by school bus stop arm cameras across the state. As of June 1, 2019, the maximum penalty is $500, explains the Maryland Department of Legislative Services

 “In Maryland, school bus stop arm cameras are also deployed on school buses in Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Washington County, and Frederick County. From the 2016-2017 academic year through the 2018-2019 school year, Montgomery County issued 105,451 school bus stop-arm camera tickets,” Townsend explained. On the Virginia side of the Potomac River, school bus stop arm cameras are in force in Arlington Public Schools, Falls Church City, and Manassas Park City Schools. In addition to Maryland and Virginia, at least 14 other states have enacted school bus stop-arm camera laws. Nationally, millions of children across the United States are returning to school, with 13 percent of them walking or biking to school. However, the recent spikes in impaired and distracted driving present new challenges for all road users. Here are 10 lifesaving lessons for back to school safety:

  1. Eliminate distractions. Drivers AND pedestrians should limit distractions. The beginning of the school year is the perfect time to have a conversation with children about looking up and looking out for motorists when crossing the street. Adults can set an example by promising to put their phones away when behind the wheel and taking the pledge not to drive ‘intexticated.’ Parents can demonstrate their commitment by signing the pledge not to drive ‘intexticated’ at www.aaa.com/dontdrivedistracted
  2. Brake for 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. Motorists 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.
  3. Slow down.  Speed limits in school zones are reduced for a reason. A pedestrian hit by a vehicle traveling at 25 mph is nearly two-thirds less likely to be killed compared to a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling just 10 mph faster.
  4. Watch for bicycles.  Children on bikes are often inexperienced, unsteady and unpredictable. Expect the unexpected. Slow down and allow at least three feet of passing distance between your vehicle and the bicycle.  If your child rides a bicycle to school, require that they wear a properly-fitted bicycle helmet on every ride.
  5. Back up with caution. Every vehicle has blind spots. Check for children on the sidewalk, driveway and around your vehicle before slowly backing up. Teach your children to never play in, under or around vehicles – even those that are parked.
  6. Come to a complete stop.  Research shows that more than one-third of drivers roll through stop signs in school zones or neighborhoods. Always come to a complete stop, checking carefully for children on sidewalks and in crosswalks before proceeding.
  7. Talk to your teen.  Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States, and more than one in four fatal crashes involving teen drivers occur during the after-school hours of 3 to 7 p.m. Get more information and tips at TeenDriving.AAA.com
  8. Use Crosswalks. Teach children the importance of using crosswalks and how to look left-right-left before crossing. Always walk on the sidewalk. If there is not a sidewalk, walk facing traffic.
  9. 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 were killed from 7 to 8 a.m. and from 3 to 4 p.m. than any other hours of the day.
  10. Look before you lock.  Parents who have made the tragic mistake of forgetting a child in a hot car often cite a change in routine as a contributing factor. AAA Mid-Atlantic is reminding all parents and caregivers whose routines have been disrupted by “back to school” to “Look before you Lock” your car to ensure every child’s safety.

Hot spots for the most school bus stop arm camera violations in Montgomery County include the 8800 block of Colesville Road, where drivers amassed 3,900 citations, and the 1400 block of East West Highway, where 2,345 motorists were caught on camera in the very act of ignoring school bus stop arm rules.  “Most of the stops with the most violations are on state roads.” Other locations with the most school bus stop arm camera tickets are the 400 block of North Frederick Avenue, where 2,295 motorists were cited, and the 8800 block of Piney Branch Road, where 1,661 motorists were slapped with school bus stop arm camera tickets.

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