ANNAPOLIS, Md. — It’s already Maryland law: drivers must stop when a school bus comes to a halt, extends a stop arm, and turns on red flashing lights to let students on or off the bus.
But Maryland lawmakers and police, frustrated with the number of drivers who continue to violate that law, are calling for an increase in civil penalties.
Del. Al Carr, testifying before the House Committee on the Environment and Transportation, introduced House Bill 186, which would hit drivers with a $250 fine for passing a stopped school bus for the second time.
Carr told the committee that it had been drilled into him as a driver’s ed student decades ago “that you never, ever, ever drive around a stopped school bus.”
As the father of three sons who take a bus to their school, he continued, “I don’t know the words to use when I learned from my police department of how many times this happens,” before the behavior “unacceptable, outrageous, puzzling.”
In a period of just 72 days, from October to February, Montgomery County school bus red light cameras recorded 4,100 violations by drivers who illegally passed stopped school buses — more than 52 a day.
“I’m here to tell you: We need help,” Montgomery County Police Captain Thomas Didone told lawmakers in Annapolis on Thursday.
Didone explained that those figures were recorded from a fraction of the Montgomery County school bus fleet. Right now, 103 buses are equipped with the cameras. By the end of this year, an additional 400 buses will get the new cameras. By 2018 all 1,203 buses in the fleet will have the cameras installed. Didone told lawmakers, if the current rate of violations continues, the added cameras will record a massive number of violations.
Current Maryland law does provide an exception to the rule that drivers may not pass a stopped school bus: when that bus is stopped on the opposite side of a divided highway.
Under the proposed bill, the $250 dollar fine would apply only when a driver commits the offense for the second time, and that occurs in the same county within 60 days of the first offense.
A similar bill has cleared a Senate committee.
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