Montgomery County issued 54,458 citations to drivers who illegally passed stopped school buses during the 2018-19 school year — the most since the police department began equipping buses with cameras in October 2016.
The police department installed cameras on the first 80 school buses in 2016 and had 200 installed by the end of the 2016-17 school year.
There were 500 cameras installed by the end of the 2017-2018 school year and 1,000 by the end of the most recent school year. The department estimates that by mid-August, all 1,400 buses in Montgomery County Public Schools’ fleet will have cameras installed.
The number of violations rose from more than 16,000 during the 2016-17 school year and more than 33,000 in 2017-18.
When a bus stops, yellow lights activate to alert drivers a bus is stopping, followed by flashing red lights and a stop arm that indicates the bus has stopped to allow children on or off the bus. State law requires all drivers to stop for school buses, except for drivers traveling in the opposite direction of the bus on a divided highway.
Drivers who illegally pass a stopped school bus in Montgomery County are photographed by the bus’s internal camera and fined $250 through an automated system. They may pay the fine or take the case to court. The fine is higher if a police officer witnesses the incident and stops the driver.
Police found that the most common locations of cars passing stopped buses have been:
– The 8800 block of Colesville Road in Silver Spring, with 3,900 citations
– The 1400 block of East West Highway in Silver Spring, with 2,345 citations
– The 400 block of North Frederick Avenue in Gaithersburg, with 2,285 citations
– The 8800 block of Piney Branch Road in Long Branch, with 1,661 citations.
During a joint meeting Monday of the County Council’s Public Safety and Education and Culture committees, Richard Hetherington, the police department’s manager for its automated traffic enforcement unit, said there are two common factors behind drivers who pass stopped school buses.
He said buses that stop on highways that are four or more lanes wide often cause problems for cars traveling in the opposite direction due to the higher speeds. Additionally, cars turning left onto a street sometimes do not see a stopped school bus, he said.
Hetherington said in some cases, a video reviewer will void a driver’s penalty if there were extenuating circumstances, such as not having enough time to stop.
“We don’t want to cause rear-end accidents by cars trying to stop for buses,” he said.
There were no fatalities during this past school year, although one young female was struck by a car in a crosswalk and sustained minor injuries.
Council member Craig Rice, whose daughter was nearly hit by a car several years ago, urged drivers on Monday to exercise caution when approaching a school bus.
“Is it worth $250 to pause for 45 seconds? Why not make sure that the safety of our children is paramount?” he said.
Council member Evan Glass, who successfully advocated for an expansion of free service hours on public Ride On buses in the county this year, said he is concerned that children using public buses are also vulnerable.
“I’m worried that these incidents might replicate themselves with our public buses, which don’t have these cameras,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org.