Montgomery County to improve school bus safety after accidents involving MCPS students

Alex Silber

By Heather Wang

After two crashes involving MCPS students in 2019, Montgomery County officials will conduct bus stop safety reviews, educate students about bus safety and implement an improved camera enforcement program to penalize drivers who pass stopped buses.

These changes are in response to the school bus-related death of a Bradley Hills Elementary School student in December and the injury of a Walter Johnson High School student one day after.

MCPS Transportation Director Todd Watkins said that the county conducted an investigation immediately following the crashes, and worked with the Montgomery County Police Department to piece together the events that led up to the incidents.

“We go back and examine everything that happened to find out what could have made a difference,” Watkins said. “That includes where the bus stop is located, the procedures we used pulling up to the stop that day and what we can do to prevent another tragedy from happening.”

The county aims to move bus stops off of major roadways and into neighborhoods to reduce the likelihood of crashes, Watkins said. However, ongoing construction in neighborhoods can often complicate things; sometimes, stops have to move to major roadways — such as Montrose Road, where the car hit the WJ student.

Additionally, the MCPS Department of Transportation is working with teachers at Bradley Hills Elementary School to raise student awareness about bus safety.

The county is also working on an initiative called “The Wait Back Campaign,” which is meant to encourage students to stand at least 50 feet from the curb while waiting for the bus, instead of standing right on the edge of the roadway where they’re immediately adjacent to traffic. 

Watkins said that through these initiatives, the county is working to improve its adoption of Vision Zero — the nationwide plan that aims to end traffic deaths by 2030. 

“The bus stop review and ‘The Wait Back Campaign’ are examples of Vision Zero-related work,” Watkins said. “If we can change the practices and the physical locations of bus stops, that is designing the system so that even with human error, we can lower injuries and prevent deaths.”