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A Montgomery County school bus waits outside a museum in D.C.

A Montgomery County school bus waits outside a museum in D.C.

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Time to Go Back to School! What You Need to Know

It’s the beginning of the end of summer, as local schools will start classes as soon as Monday.

This will inevitably mean fewer people on vacation, more cars back on the road, and school buses to contend with during morning and afternoon commutes.

School Opening Dates

DC - August 20

Maryland - September 4

Fairfax County – August 28

Arlington County – September 4

Loudoun County – August 23

Alexandria - September 4

Manassas - August 27

Fredericksburg - September 4

Prince William County –August 27

Falls Church – September 4

Stafford County – September 4.

Keep in mind that school openings may be staggered by grade, so you’ll see some inconsistent traffic patterns over the next few weeks.

The extra traffic—and the presence of young people traveling to and from school—places a new emphasis on driving safely and being aware. There is an average of 137 deaths involving school transportation each year.

Drive Safe

We are always concerned about the safety of kids on buses, but statistics show that the bus itself may be the safest place to be if there’s an accident. Between 2001 and 2010, 72 percent of deaths related to school transportation were occupants of other vehicles. Another 21 percent were cyclists or pedestrians.

The law firm of Edgar Snyder & Associates notes that many of the accidents involving school buses don’t really involve the bus at all, but instead are rear-end collisions involving other cars. A common scenario is for one driver to stop as they approach a bus, only to be rear-ended by another driver who was not paying attention.

To avoid this scenario, remember these tips:

  • Keep a healthy distance from vehicles in front of you. This will allow you to brake gradually, thus also giving cars behind you time to stop as well.
  • Avoid distracted driving. Put away the phone. Even using a phone with a hands-free device can be distracting.

Remember the Rules

There are various laws regarding travel and school buses, but most states have very similar rules outlining what motorists should do when they approach a bus that is stopped or slowing down.

When a school bus is approaching you on the opposite side of the road and swings its stop sign out, you’re supposed to stop. Those stop signs should be treated just like a red light. You sit there until it changes. If a bus does not have the stop sign, it may have blinking red lights that mean the same thing.

The American Automobile Association has a handy guide of state laws.

  • In Maryland, drivers are required to stop 20 feet from a school bus that has its red lights flashing. It’s 15 feet in the District.
  • In Virginia, a driver can be charged with reckless driving if they fail to stop for a school bus.
  • All over the region, buses are permitted to have monitoring cameras, so if you break the law, you may be recorded doing it.

Beware of Bus Stops

If you’ve gotten in the habit of whipping in and out of your neighborhood over the summer, it’s now time to pay more attention and slow down. Street corners will be clogged with kids waiting for school buses, and there will be many walking or biking on the side of streets heading to school.

All it takes is for one kid to step off a curb or dart out into the street after a football for an accident to take place.

Extra Bodies on Metro

Keep in mind that not every student who heads to school rides the school bus. Many city students will ride Metrobus or Metrorail (in fact, all public school students can ride for free) so expect some extra folks on board as you head to and from work.

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