School buses are about 40 feet long and 10 feet high. They are painted bright yellow, and when they stop, red lights flash, and, in some cases, a long arm extends outward, blocking the road.

They are not subtle. They are not easily missed.

Yet drivers are blowing past them on a regular basis, putting schoolchildren at risk. If people don’t come to their senses, it is only a matter of time before tragedy strikes.

It almost just did. Earlier this month, a driver illegally passed a stopped school bus on an unpaved shoulder in Standish, flying by the door just as a young girl was getting ready to come out. A 19-year-old woman from Gorham has been charged.

Several days later, a 53-year-old man from Mount Desert Island was charged with the same offense after passing a stopped bus that was dropping off students.

That’s not all. The Gorham School Department, which is now working to place cameras on all school buses to record illegal passes, reports more than 50 instances in this school year alone.


Last fall, just as students were returning to school en masse after learning from home through much of the pandemic, Westbrook school bus drivers reported they were being passed like never before, with 10 happening in a two-week period.

“Their phone’s ringing, or they’re drinking their cup of coffee, brushing their hair. I’ve seen it all,” one Westbrook bus driver told WGME. “They’re even looking straight ahead and they’re just like in a daze going through them.”

They’re not imagining things. After the pandemic break, school buses full of students returned to roads that have gotten more dangerous in the meantime. Even as traffic went way down as people stayed home, motor vehicle accidents and deaths climbed, both in Maine and across the nation.

The cause, authorities say, is an increase in risky, even antisocial behavior, a disturbing yet human response to the stress, isolation and uncertainty of the pandemic.

Not only is distracted driving up, but so is reckless and impaired driving, all which have conspired to cause motor vehicle crashes to rise. They are also a factor in the continued rise of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities.

Could a tragedy involving students and a school bus be far behind?


Schools, and law enforcement, aren’t waiting. Gorham won’t be the last district to place cameras on buses, and in some areas police say they are following buses to make sure other drivers take notice.

If not, and if they are caught, they’ll be summonsed, and subject to a $250 fine on the first offense, a suspended license on the second.

That should be enough to remind drivers to stay put when a bus is stopped in front of them, as should the possibility that passing the bus puts young children in danger, all to save a few seconds.

Just take the sight of big, yellow bus with the flashing red lights as your signal to stop, and give kids a few moments to get to safety.

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