Gridlock Guy: Driving on eggshells around buses and in school zones

‘Tis the season for big cheeses and small progeny to commence in their daily rituals of tracing the same paths to and from their learning hives. Yes, schools are back in session and in the height of summer, no less. With drivers no less reckless and dangerous than way back in May and with just about every school meeting every day in person, the need exists for reminders on how to behave around buses and schools.

Schools had been meeting almost entirely in person for the 2021-2022 school year, but there were some hybrid learning schedules in Metro Atlanta districts a year ago. That made adjusting to the commute changes tricky, because schedules changed from day to day. But schools almost entirely held normal, in-person sessions by the middle or end of last school year and that trend continues now.

This means there is no guesswork: School zones will be active and full at consistent times. Plan accordingly and be patient. Leaving neighborhoods will take longer.

Drivers need to remember the crucial reason for 25 mph speed limits in school zones. A person is three times more likely to die when hit at 35 mph versus at 25 mph. That is a key delineation. So for the sake of saving lives and avoiding speeding tickets, driving in a school zone when the flashing yellow lights are on requires a proverbial egg under the throttle and the patience of Job.

The rules allowing drivers to pass stopped school buses have been confusing to follow. Gold Dome lawmakers had to reverse a law a few years ago that loosened those regulations.

Here is the law in a nutshell: no vehicle in either direction can pass a stopped school bus, unless there is a raised or grassy median and that vehicle is going the opposite way of the bus. That’s it. No exceptions.

Georgia is now several years into allowing school bus cameras to nab offenders who don’t stop and other reckless drivers. While that has been controversial, this has turned into a real deterrent in districts that use this technology. Many people complain about the lack of enforcement of various traffic laws but then complain about this method. Given the staffing shortages at police departments, using automated systems such as those on school buses becomes more necessary.

Connected vehicles are key to school zone safety, too. Duluth tech firm Applied Information debuted technology a year ago that enables school buses to send signals to surrounding connected cars when the stop arms extend. This extra layer of warnings should prompt human drivers to slow earlier and more often and will instruct automated driving systems to do the same.

Motorists also need to remember that school buses cannot maneuver on a dime as most regular vehicles can. The mindless meandering in and out of lanes, cutting buses off, or driving in blindspots can trigger greater consequences with buses that weigh ten times what cars do.

A last-minute move in a car can cause a bus driver to overcorrect and potentially hurt its precious passengers and those in multiple surrounding vehicles. That can all start with a seemingly innocuous mistake.

Just this past Tuesday, as I worked my WSB Triple Team Traffic shift, I heard about a school bus in Paulding County that slid off the road and into a ditch. The driver called 911 with extra fear that the unstable load would tip over. Thankfully, the fire department arrived and found none of the 16 students on board hurt, and no threat that the bus would tip.

Drivers need to abide by the same rules around buses that exist around tractor trailers, driving with the same idea that those monstrosities are far less nimble and can do far more damage than the average vessel.

Finally, there is the example that we all set for the future generation of commuters. Remember, students up high in buses and can look down at people driving and haphazardly holding phones. Young passengers can see reckless speeders and learn their bad habits. Kids in crosswalks will notice how aggressive drivers treat them and end up programmed the same way when they get their own sets of keys. And that behavior will be repeated -— the good and the bad.

Every motorist should take a deep breath when driving around buses, neighborhoods and schools. Speeding increases the chances of pedestrian fatalities. Running school bus stop signs does, too. Driving maniacally around buses can cause them to tip over and with great carnage. Students learn bad behavior easier than algebra. In the interest of both the safety and the maturation of the next generation, all of these precautions are more than polite — they are necessary.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also hosts a traffic podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.