Drivers behaving badly endanger public

The News TribuneSeptember 17, 2013 

Drivers going in either direction on a two-lane road are required to stop when a school bus’ red lights are flashing and its “STOP” paddle is extended.

STEVE KOHLS/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Washington drivers, get a grip. Many of you are doing some bonehead things, and you’ll be lucky if you don’t kill or badly injure someone.

Two new studies that came out last week paint a disturbing picture of too many drivers in this state blatantly endangering public safety. They ignore laws that carry hefty fines all to save a few seconds or to text someone.

We already knew that texting while driving was a problem. But a new University of Washington study of distracted driving in six of the state’s counties (including Pierce) found that it’s even worse than previously estimated.

Researchers positioned at intersections observed that more than 8 percent of drivers were using electronic devices, mostly cellphones. Of those, 45 percent were texting. This despite the fact that, had a police officer been watching instead of a UW researcher, the result could have been a $124 fine.

The study shows why more cellphone emphasis patrols should be conducted. The last one, held May 30 to June 2, resulted in 1,448 tickets statewide compared to 1,059 during a similar crackdown in 2012.

Studies show that a driver is 23 times more likely to crash while texting than when not texting a rate comparable to someone with a 0.19 percent blood-alcohol level (more than twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent).

Another big problem among Washington drivers has to do with school buses: Many of us ignore the law that requires drivers to stop when the bus driver activates the vehicle’s flashing red lights and extends the “STOP” paddle. (See box above.)

In an annual survey, which was conducted this year on May 1, bus drivers in 110 Washington school districts recorded how many vehicles illegally passed them that day. Statewide, more than 1,500 drivers ignored the flashing red lights. Incredibly, some even passed on the right side of the bus, the side where children board.

Yes, school buses stopping to pick up children can be a pain in the neck. Too often, it seems, the bus just sits there as the driver waits and waits for stragglers to board or has a conversation with a parent. Still, drivers must exercise patience. To do otherwise risks the unthinkable: hitting a child running to or from a bus.

Dismayed by the survey results, Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn is recommending that school districts install cameras on their buses to record violations.

Wherever that’s feasible, districts should make the effort. When word gets out that violators could be recorded and sent a $394 ticket, the dangerous practice should decrease – just as red-light running has decreased at intersections with cameras.

When to stop

If a school bus is stopped with its red lights flashing and its “STOP” paddle extended, drivers must stop when:

 • Going in the same direction on any road.

 • Going in the opposite direction on a two-lane road. They don’t have to stop if the road has more than two lanes, including a center turn lane.

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