By Arthur Mondale, Pentagram Staff WriterAugust 31, 2016
The start of the school year is here, and drivers are seeing more school buses on the road. Most District of Columbia public schools began classes Aug. 22, and Prince George's County Public School students returned to class Aug. 23. Students in many other districts, including Arlington public schools, are expected to return to class Sept. 6.
Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall law enforcement officials remind drivers to be cautious, and that they'll be watching to ensure all traffic laws are followed.
"Too many commuters are either inattentive to their surroundings while driving or they have a blatant disregard for the School Bus Stop Law," said Lt. Troy Dennison, chief of operations for JBM-HH police. "Both in the I-395 beltway and here on the installation, drivers need to be mindful both on and off post."
In accordance with VA 46.2-859 (School Bus Stop Law), a driver "must stop for stopped school buses with flashing red lights (and an extended stop sign) when approaching from any direction on a highway, private road or school driveway" until all persons are clear and the bus moves again, the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles driver's manual states.
Drivers must stop even if the signals are not on, when the bus is loading or unloading passengers.
Despite the law, violations are common. Last year, JBM-HH began enhanced enforcement at two school bus stops; in front of the Fort Myer Officers' Club at the intersection of Lee and Jackson Ave., and in front of the Fort Myer Fitness Center on Sheridan Ave.
"The situation had become almost epidemic," Dennison said. "We not only had to monitor the school bus routes but also place speed signs on the routes to reduce the number of traffic infractions. I personally had to pull someone over who had blatant disregard for the law. This driver didn't even try to stop as children were noticeably attempting to board the school bus. He was cited for inattentive driving for passing the school bus while texting."
In October 2015 alone, there were five citations written for drivers who passed a stopped school bus, 12 speeding violations, and four reckless driving citations for drivers who were clocked traveling at least 20-miles per hour over the speed limit at the two locations, said Patrick O'Mara, a JBM-HH traffic accident investigator.
"Currently we are still citing people who are traveling 10 to 15 miles per hour over the speed limit," Dennison said.
Police officers said they will continue enhanced enforcement until local drivers consistently follow the law.
"It's got to the point that we have and will monitor the school bus routes every day in the morning," O'Mara said. "If drivers pass a stopped school bus it's a mandatory court appearance and a reckless driving charge. It's as if you made the infraction outside the gate, and drivers should expect zero leniencies in court."
Per installation policy, drivers receiving three citations within a year can lose driving privileges on JBM-HH.
"The message for area drivers is to pay attention to the roadway," Dennison said. "Think about the safety of children and yourself."
Pentagram Staff Writer Arthur Mondale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.