Montgomery Co. Council Member Asks for State Review of Safety of School Bus Stops

The chairman of the Montgomery County Council Education Committee has asked for a state investigation of the safety of some local bus stops, because of the findings of a News4 I-Team report.

Council member Craig Rice requested the State Highway Administration review the safety of pedestrians at the bus stops along State Route 355, one of the local roads in which a May 2015 I-Team investigation found a large number of drivers being ticketed for illegally passing stopped school buses.

More than 2,200 drivers have been charged with illegally driving past a stopped school bus in the Washington, D.C., suburbs in the past three years, according to the I-Team report.

The violations include a series of dangerous driving maneuvers recorded during the 2014-2015 school year by undercover I-Team cameras at three bus stops: One along State Route 355 in Gaithersburg, another along State Route 410 in Riverdale and a stop near the Fairfax city line at Route 29 in Fairfax County. At each of those bus stops, the I-Team cameras captured images of drivers bypassing the bus stop signs, even as children were standing or walking in close proximity. In at least once instance, a driver is seen nearly collided with an adult crossing the street, near the Gaithersburg stop.

In his written request to state highway officials, Rice said, “Recently, there have been incidents in which pedestrians have been seriously injured or killed crossing our increasingly congested roadways.” Rice said the violations reported and shown by the I-Team constitute a threat to students who stray away from the sidewalks and drop off locations. Rice, in his letter to state officials, said the I-Team report “highlights the necessity of safe co-existence between transit and our residents.”

A review of state court records and motor vehicle agency reports show the violations are widespread and growing in some D.C.-area communities. Virginia state records show a 10 percent increase in drivers charged with illegally bypassing school buses each year between 2011 and 2013. The I-Team found 155 drivers cited for doing so in Arlington County over a recent three-year stretch. Drivers in Fairfax County were cited 655 times during the same time frame. Drivers in Loudoun County were cited 61 times, the I-Team found.

A state highway official said it is likely the agency will review the crash history of the stretches of State Route 355 in Montgomery County, as part of their response to Rice’s request. An agency spokesman said, “We are more than willing to meet the councilman on site to discuss any specific safety concerns he may have.”

A Montgomery County Public Schools transportation official said the risk of drivers violating safety laws near school buses is higher on major state roads like Route 355. The district has established bus stops in locations that prevent children from having to cross state highways, he said.

Prince George’s County Public Schools transportation operations supervisor Kimberly Wilks said the district has also established school bus stops to prevent children from needing to cross four-lane state roads.

Maryland State Delegate Ben Kramer (D-Montgomery) said he will re-introduce legislation in January to double the fines against drivers who are ticketed for illegally passing stopped school buses. The fine would increase from $250 to $500.

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