FARMINGTON — For school bus drivers in Regional School Unit 9, School Bus Safety Week is a good time to drive home the importance of keeping students safe while on the bus and at bus stops.

The district has a fleet of 32 buses, including spares to use if another bus is undergoing maintenance. There are 24 separate bus runs that transport the district’s approximately 2,400 students from their homes to schools.

Bruce Rollins of Wilton has been driving bus for the district for 23 years. He has trained bus drivers for 15 years. Currently, he is training his forty-sixth bus driver, he said.

“He trained me,” said Richard Joseph, Transportation Specialist.

We joined Rollins and Joseph on a simulated bus stop training to understand what safety looks like from the driver’s seat of a school bus.

“When I’m coming to a stop to pick up or drop off a child, I use my mirrors to look way back behind the bus and I also look way ahead,” Rollins said.

At least 200 feet before a stop, the yellow flashing lights are engaged. It used to be 100 feet, but that was changed about a dozen years ago, he said.

Each bus is equipped with an Exterior Light Monitor, or ELMO, that shows the driver which lights, blinkers or flashers are on.

When the bus comes to a stop, flashing red lights are engaged, which means everyone, including students, stops.

A stop arm on the front of the bus is extended and the driver looks again to make sure no vehicles are coming from any direction.

“Once it is clear, I nod to students,” he said. “That is my signal to them that it is okay to cross.”

Superintendent Tina Meserve said there are four participants to bus stop safety: the bus driver, drivers of other vehicles, students and parents.

School bus safety is presented to students at the beginning of the year and it is reviewed several times throughout the year.

Rollins said part of his usual stop routine is to remind students to wait for his nod to cross.

There is a lot of judging drivers do, Joseph said. “They watch the mirrors from behind, they have to gauge when oncoming cars will come to a stop.”

Under Title 29-A, Section 2308, Maine law says: The operator of a vehicle on a street, parking area or on school property when meeting 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. The motorist may not proceed until the school bus resumes motion or until signaled by the school bus operator to proceed.”

The exception is when there’s a divided road or highway — a barrier or median strip separating the bus from oncoming motorists.

If a vehicle does not stop for a stopped bus, the driver will honk the horn which alerts students outside the bus.

“We’ve had folks pass a stopped bus. It happens a lot. We’ve had them pass on the ditch side,” said Joseph.

The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services conducts an annual survey on illegal passing of school buses. For one day, bus drivers around the country keep count of how many times drivers illegally pass them.

In 2018, 108,623 bus drivers in 38 states plus District of Columbia, reported nearly 84,000 illegal violations. In Maine, 225 bus drivers reported 88 illegal passing.

If a motor vehicle passes a bus, the bus driver will pull over and radio the transportation office with descriptions of vehicle and driver, and license plate number. The information is then reported to law enforcement.

“When a car is coming and you have students to worry about, it is hard to get the license plate,” Rollins said.

Cameras installed on buses can aid in capturing any missed information needed to identify a motorist.

Passing a stopped school bus with its red lights flashing is a Class E crime, punishable by a minimum fine of $250 for the first offense and a mandatory 30-day driver’s license suspension for a second offense.

“In cases where we can’t determine the driver, the registered owner of a vehicle can be fined $326,” said Deputy Police Chief Shane Cote. “It is also illegal for a bicycle to pass a bus. The fine for that violation is $152.”

National School Bus Safety Week, held during the third full week of October each year, focuses on the importance of school bus safety.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.