‘Appalling and unacceptable’: Too many drivers pass school buses illegally

GAITHERSBURG, Md. — Twenty-five school buses in Montgomery County are equipped with automated cameras to ticket vehicles that pass stopped buses, and police say they’re catching a disturbing number of violations.

“Twenty thousand people passing a stopped school bus is appalling and unacceptable. And we have to do better,” said Capt. Thomas C. Didone, director of traffic for Montgomery County police.

To raise awareness about what police consider a significant safety issue for the upcoming school year, the department reported Friday that during last school year, school bus cameras issued 19,566 tickets. During summer school, 525 citations were issued.

Didone is chagrined to think that anyone could inadvertently pass a large, brightly painted school bus that is stopped with flashing red lights and its stop sign extended.

“How can that happen if you’re paying attention?” he asked.

The fine for an automated camera ticket is $250. Drivers ticketed by an officer for passing a stopped school bus earn three points on their driver’s license and are fined $570.

Excuses officers hear from drivers include that they didn’t see the school bus on the opposite side of the road; they aren’t sure whether they have to stop and remain stopped; or that they’re unclear on the law, Didone said.

Drivers traveling in the opposite direction of a stopped school bus do not have to stop if there’s a grassy or raised median between them and the bus.

“But if the lines are only painted on the roadway, then you have to stop because paint doesn’t protect kids,” Didone said.

Children are going to be out and about with the start of the school year, and Didone warned that children’s behavior around traffic can be unpredictable.

“They need adults and drivers to be their defensive mechanism, to look out for them to help keep them safe,” Didone said.

By January 2019, Montgomery County police hope to have automated enforcement cameras installed on all of the county’s 1,200 school buses.

In Montgomery County, classes resume on Sept. 5. See the full list of back-to-school start dates here.

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