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Under Maine law, drivers have to stop for school buses that are dropping off or picking up passengers.
“The operator of a vehicle on a way, in a parking area or on school property, on meeting or overtaking a school bus from either direction when the bus has stopped with its red lights flashing to receive or discharge passengers, shall stop the vehicle before reaching the school bus,” reads the state law on overtaking or passing a school bus. “The operator may not proceed until the school bus resumes motion or until signaled by the school bus operator to proceed.”
Failing to do so is a class E crime that is punishable by a minimum fine of $250 for the first offense and a mandatory 30-day suspension of someone’s driver’s license if a second offense happens within three years of the first offense.
This law should be enough for Maine drivers to be aware of and cautious around school buses on the road. But if motorists and commercial drivers needed another reason to drive with care and follow the law, consider the horrific news out of Gray this week.
A 13-year-old student from Gray-New Gloucester Middle School was hit by a tractor trailer on Tuesday while getting off a school bus and crossing the road. The student was seriously injured and taken to Maine Medical Center. He is expected to make a full recovery.
According to the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating the incident, the lights and stop sign on the bus were working and being used when the crash occurred.
Even as the investigation continues, we don’t need any more details to know that this shouldn’t have happened. Whether behind the wheel of a large truck or a small call, vehicle operators need to be aware of school buses on the road and able to stop for them and their passengers. Not just because this is the law, but because it has potentially life-changing implications.
According to reporting last year from TV station WGME, only 0.002 percent of total crashes in the state involve school buses. Still, there were at least 90 such crashes in the state in 2022. Drivers need to take caution in order to not add to those numbers and their human impact — like the eight children taken to the hospital in January 2022 after a truck hit a school bus in Newburgh.
As with our frequent pleas about being cognizant of pedestrians and cyclists on the road, this call for caution isn’t ticky-tack hall monitor kind of stuff. This is a serious matter of personal and public safety. Sadly, another pedestrian was struck by a car near downtown Bangor on Thursday.
Part of improving safety on Maine roads comes down to infrastructure, and planning safe use and sharing of the roadway. But a lot of it also comes down to driver attention and care.
“It’s getting worse. Drivers are more distracted now. They are texting, talking on their cell phone. They are doing anything other than watching the road, a lot of people running stop signs,” Judy Wilcox, manager at Cyr Bus Lines in Bangor, told News Center Maine in 2021.
At the time, Bangor school bus drivers reported that other drivers were their number one concern, telling that TV station that some people don’t stop as the law requires of them.
“If somebody is coming at me, they should see that, but they don’t, ‘Oh, I didn’t see you,’” bus driver Judy Albert also told News Center two years ago. “How big do you have to be? How bright do you have to be?”
Buses shouldn’t need to be any bigger or brighter than they already are in order for people to drive carefully around them. People need to drive slower, pay better attention and follow existing law.