Turning right on red could be massive time saver for school district

In this file photo, Students board a Manatee County School District bus as it prepares to leave King Middle School.
In this file photo, Students board a Manatee County School District bus as it prepares to leave King Middle School.

If you see a school bus turn right on red, in spite of the sticker on the back proclaiming it does no such thing, don’t fret.

The School District of Manatee County is in the midst of a pilot program allowing bus drivers to turn right on red, in hopes of speeding up route times and eliminating a potentially unnecessary regulation.

Jason Harris, director of transportation vehicle maintenance, said he hopes the rule change could save bus drivers 10 to 20 minutes per route. With 150 buses out at any time, the time-savings could be significant.

“Any savings we can find, any kind of route efficiency we are going to look into, as long as it doesn’t impact safety,” Harris said.

Harris said bus drivers are already trained in turning right on red as part of their licensing training, and that to his knowledge Manatee County is one of the few districts in Florida with a moratorium in place.

The pilot program will run for the entirety of the 2016-17 school year. Harris said the district had received a few phone calls complaining that drivers of buses emblazoned with stickers stating they do not turn right on red were doing just that, so the district notified parents last week of the pilot program.

Harris said there have been no accidents so far from the adjustment to the rule, and eliminating a rule that kept buses sitting in place may actually be safer.

“The majority of our accidents happen when we are stopped somewhere, and we are constantly getting rear ended by cars,” Harris said. “A lot of accidents take place at stops, railroad crossings.”

A nation-wide school bus driver shortage is affecting Manatee County as well, where the district is usually 10 to 15 drivers short on a daily basis, Harris said. That means drivers have to adjust routes, which can cause delays. And as snowbirds flock to Manatee during the winter months and roads become more congested, bus drivers waiting to turn right were delayed up to five minutes at each light.

“Our buses were making some drivers upset. They weren’t allowed to turn right, so they would sit at the light, and it would back up traffic, and of course that would lead to some angry drivers,” Harris said. “That’s another reason why we decided to do this.”

The district will evaluate the data at the end of the school year and decide whether to make the change permanent.

Ryan McKinnon: 941-745-7027, @JRMcKinnon