Schools across Maryland are back in session this week. This means drivers need to be aware of buses and students walking to & from bus stops and schools.

Maryland law requires vehicles on both sides of the road to stop completely for buses picking up or dropping off students. (On divided highways, only traffic traveling in the same direction must stop). The penalty for passing a school bus with a stop-arm extended and its red lights flashing is a fine of $570 and three points.

In some counties across the U.S., including Montgomery County here in Maryland, buses are being equipped with stop-arm cameras. Similar to red light cameras, these devices are mounted on the side of the school bus and take photos of cars that pass the bus while the stop-arm is extended. The automated photo violation carries a $125 fine.

Knowing when you’re required to stop for a bus, and when you can keep driving can be confusing. Here’s a great visual guide from the Maryland Highway Safety Office.

With parents dropping students off at school, buses lining up at schools for drop off or pick-up, kids walking to and from school or the bus stop, and crossing guards delaying traffic patterns, drivers are faced with many potentially dangerous situations. Here are some tips for preparing for and avoiding those situations, and making sure you get to work and our kids get to and from school safely.

Know Your Route Be aware of the schools, bus stops, crosswalks, and the places where cars stack up to drop off and pick up students along your commute route. Also, know the times that those areas have higher volumes of school-related traffic.

Plan Your Commute If you know that the bus picks up at the entrance to your street at 7:30 am, you can plan to leave early enough get through that area ahead of time, delay leaving long enough give the bus time to clear the area, or make peace with the fact that you’ll be stuck behind the bus for a few stops. Check the local Board of Education website for changes to the bus routes. With graduations and kids moving away, bus stop locations and times may change from year to year. The 7:30 bus that you could get out in front of at 7:25 last year might have one less stop now, and show up at 7:25 this year.

Pay Extra Attention Keep your eyes peeled for students running to make the bus or crossing the street outside of the designated cross walk. Kids, especially those with very early buses or whose eyes are buried in their phones, don’t always remember to watch for cars. You have to pay extra attention for them…and make sure you’re not distracted with your own electronic devices!

Expect Surprises and Delays Buses will wait for stragglers. Parents will take photos of the little ones getting on the bus for the first time. Around high schools, you’ll encounter teen drivers who are driving themselves to school for the first time this week. Freshmen who walk to school might be taking a new route for the first time and may try to cross the street in areas you’re not used to watching for students. Expect these delays and surprises, and be ready for them.

With a few simple steps, we can make sure everyone makes it to and from school and work safely.

Maryland Auto Insurance wishes students across Maryland a great and safe 2016 – 2017 school year.