Gridlock Guy: This rule for sharing road with school bus just changed

The move is another attempt to get drivers to slow down.

Now that most schools have resumed, the commute out of neighborhoods gets longer. More people go back to their normal post-summer work and errands schedules, so volume increases. Delays and patience often have an inverse relationship. Drivers simply make riskier decisions and have more stress when they are in a hurry. But extra patience is mandatory in school zones.

» RELATED: Traffic hassles return as metro Atlanta schools open this week

“The start of the school year is a challenging time for parents because of new routines and increased traffic,” AAA spokesperson Garrett Townsend told the AJC and WSB. “We encourage anyone taking children to school to establish habits to help them stay focused on the task of driving. Extra vigilance and patience is required so that everyone can get to their destination safely.”

AAA Georgia Field VP Sasha Marcincyzk shared this resonating fact in the Gridlock Guy column on this subject a year ago: children hit by cars traveling 35 mph are three times more likely to die than at 25 mph. And the highest age group at risk of pedestrian injury are children between ages 5 and 14. This message should be enough for anyone to drive with a proverbial eggshell beneath the throttle in a school zone.

The July 1st advent of the Hands-Free Georgia Act plays right into this. As we have extensively covered here, the new law mandates drivers keep their phones out of their hands and imposes more restrictions on types of texting, app use, and audio streaming allowed. The law, however, does not magically eliminate distracted driving; it is another attempt to nudge motorists in the right direction. Any hands-free precautions taken on the open road should be more so in a school zone. There are more distractions and greater consequences when kids are crossing the streets and being, well, kids.

» RELATED: Gridlock Guy: What the new Hands-Free Georgia Act bans and allows

Drivers should not gauge the caution they take simply on how recent laws have changed. House Bill 978 also went into effect on July 1st and increased automated enforcement of traffic laws around school buses, a measure met with big opposition. But it also eased the restrictions of who stops around buses. Now drivers going the opposite direction of a school bus on a multilane highway (which is two or more lanes in each direction), do not have to stop, if there is a turn lane in the middle. "Vehicles traveling in opposite direction must use caution!" Townsend emphatically explained. This softening of the law, which before only allowed oncoming vehicles to stop if there was a raised or grassy median, also met resistance.

Vehicles behind stopped school buses, no matter their lane, still must stop when buses are offloading kids. Drivers in both directions still must halt on two-lane roads, even if those have turn lanes. And people violate these existing laws all the time, in the name of “I can just squeak right by” or “this is totally unnecessary.” Kids are expected to behave — so, too, must motorists. Lives are at stake.

» RELATED: Why a small change in law could create danger for students

AAA's legacy School Safety Patrol Program, something I was honored to be in 20 years ago, is still going strong and is a great way to both enforce safety and teach students themselves the importance of caution and common sense.

“Prior to participating in the patrol program, I really didn’t know what safety meant,” AAA Georgia School Safety Patrol of the Year, Xavier Sellers, said. The program also teaches students how to better lead their peers and even adults. “Now that I have the responsibility of keeping my school safe, I can see the importance of being a better leader and developing qualities that will help me operate with excellence.” Sellers attended Anderson Elementary School in Clayton County, which means Clayton County has produced the Safety Patrol of the Year twice in a row. Alyce Washington won the honor a year ago.

Whether new laws, news stories, public service announcements, safety patrollers in neon belts, amber school-zone lights, or some mixture of all grab attention during this time, they should prompt action. Children deserve extra attention in many ways, not the least of which being behind the wheel.

» RELATED: Georgia cameras may catch school-zone speeders

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin' Mark McKay on Contact him at