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Travis Baker blogs about the problems and idiosyncrasies of Kitsap highways and byways.
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Stuck behind a school bus on Miller Bay Road

January 30th, 2013 by travis baker

The in basket: Walt Elliott of North Kitsap said in a Jan. 18 e-mail, “Driving down Miller Road, we had a backup behind a school bus of 20 cars that I could count and more that I couldn’t.

“Is there any requirement for vehicles to pull over to let a line of traffic pass as there is on the state highways?”

The out basket: Walt apparently was referring to the law making it illegal to delay more than five cars behind you, which is enforceable on county roads as well as state highways.

It reads, “On a two-lane highway where passing is unsafe because of traffic in the opposite direction or other conditions, a slow moving vehicle, behind which five or more vehicles are formed in a line, shall turn off the roadway wherever sufficient area for a safe turn-out exists, in order to permit the vehicles following to proceed. A slow moving vehicle is one which is proceeding at a rate of speed less than the normal flow of traffic at the particular time and place.” The law doesn’t exempt vehicles traveling the speed limit.

Trooper Russ Winger of the state patrol here said, “I am not aware of an RCW that exempts school buses from the law. However, school buses operating on rural roadways make many stops and starts during morning and afternoon runs.

As the large and awkward buses travel the narrow rural roadways there are not frequent suitable or safe places to pull over and let traffic pass. Backups with that many vehicles (20 or more) most probably occur in relatively slow speed areas with stops fairly close together.

“Most veteran drivers know that if they find themselves behind a school bus full of kids at certain locations and times – well, hurry up and wait, because you drew the short stick that day.”

“I know bus drivers do watch out for this and do pull over when safe to do so, because I’ve seen them do it numerous times. I don’t think the safety of school children should take a back seat to impatient drivers, however. The actual time that it will take to get the kids picked up and dropped off safely during the runs is not really that long.”

Kat Peterson of North Kitsap Schools says the caveat “wherever sufficient area for a safe turn-out exists” serves to exempt their buses.

“Our stipulation for a bus over 26,000 pounds is you have to have a safe place to turn of,” she said.

“If we can’t pull over and get completely off the roadway, it’s not safe,” she said.

She could think of only a couple of places on Miller Bay Road going one way and only one going the other direction wide enough for a bus to get completely out of the road.

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8 Responses to “Stuck behind a school bus on Miller Bay Road”

  1. Alison Loris Says:

    I’ve seen a similar situation on Viking Way in the late afternoon (morning too, I would guess) with a Kitsap Transit bus making numerous stops. Again, the bus cannot safely pull over very often. The best thing other drivers can do is just not take that road at that time of day!

  2. Gregg M Says:

    It is not as easy as it sounds to find a safe/stable pull off area. My partner drives for a local transit agency. She knows where the clear zones are, but drivers in smaller vehicles are not aware of the area needed to pull a bus off and then back on the roadway.

  3. Robin in Manette Says:

    Why not just pass the school bus? Isn’t Miller Bay rd a long straight road with many legal passing spots? If the bus driver just stopped at one bus stop and pulled their flag in most of the cars could probably safely pass whether the driver is able to get completely off the road or not.

    Of course this only works if the bus driver will pause at one stop and pull the sign in…

  4. Ducttapeo1 Says:

    “Kat Peterson of North Kitsap Schools says the caveat “wherever sufficient area for a safe turn-out exists” serves to exempt their buses.

    “Our stipulation for a bus over 26,000 pounds is you have to have a safe place to turn of,” she said.

    “If we can’t pull over and get completely off the roadway, it’s not safe,” she said.

    She could think of only a couple of places on Miller Bay Road going one way and only one going the other direction wide enough for a bus to get completely out of the road.”

    Well there is no distinction my mind for turn-out, and TURN OFF.

    Quite frankly, IF there are children on a bus with 20, or more cars, and the bus is over 26,000 pounds, that’s a recipe for a disaster.

    We’re talking about street safety of the children and TRAFFIC congestion.

    Really, there’s no caveat for exemption, unless the bus director has an opinion from a lawyer, backed up by a court decision. And it shouldn’t have to come down to that.

    Common sense would be to TURN OFF on the next available road. And only If that stretch of road had a suitable one to turn off and turn on to another street to get back on the correct route. Please don’t say that isn’t applicable as I’ll start rattling off a list of school corporations that do that, particularly during the winter, in the midwest. School bus routes should be focused on getting their riders to their destination in an orderly fashion, and have alternate routes in cases of accidents and traffic congestion. After all, the taxpayers are paying for this. No excuses, and if they’re late, mom can drive them to school!

    And I’m not particularly impressed with the busing track record of the NK Schools. They’ve had a few driver, driving, and parent-driver issues over the past few years, like this one below. And if there is a group of agressive drivers behind the bus, it should pull over because road rage and a possible road rage with a gun incident is a serious and possible scenario. Haven’t we read enough road rage shooting stories?

    http://www.kitsapsun.com/news/2012/may/02/3-year-old-left-alone-on-nk-school-bus-for-half/

    Ms. Peterson is a bus driver, trainer, and transportation official. She’s not law enforcement, a judge, or a lawyer.

  5. Ducttapeo1 Says:

    PS. What about the need for emergency vehicles to get around these 20 cars and that large bus?

    Does it seem logical then that it’s probably in the best interests of the district to run more, but smaller sized buses on those routes, like that area on Miller Bay Road? Because a smaller bus will be able to pull off. School districts have the rights but responsibilities in using these public roads. Smaller loaded buses would also reduce the stress on the road pavement. Bigger isn’t necessarily better, safer, and the only way to do things.

  6. Andrew Says:

    I frequently get caught in school bus backups on Miller Bay Rd, and know where they can and have pulled over. But they do so only maybe half the time.

  7. travis baker Says:

    I guess I’d better make it clear that I paraphrased Kat Peterson in this column. She did not say, “serves to exempt their buses,” but implied that the need to keep the children safe allows them to operate as they do.
    Road Warrior Travis Baker

  8. Ginny Johnston Says:

    When all of you get your CDL’s and the extra school bus training required for the job, THEN you can comment. Until then, you are just making ignorant, uneducated guesses. It IS about safety. You have no idea what it is like to have up to 72 loud children sitting behind you, making sure that they are sitting safely, not fighting, etc, while paying attention to the road and to drivers who are too impatient to care about the safety of the children. There are not many places that are SAFE to pull a 40 foot bus completely off the road. Just because it is safe for you to pull your car over doesn’t mean it is for a large vehicle. As to the comment about getting more, smaller buses: that means more buses and fuel to buy, more drivers to pay, more mechanics needed, etc. If you don’t vote to pass a school levy, where do you think the money is going to come from? If you are continually getting “stuck” behind a bus, maybe you should leave a few minutes earlier/later, or take a different route.

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You can reach Travis Baker at tvisb@wavecable.com

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