Dangers of distracted driving: ramming school buses

How a motorist can fail to spot a big yellow school bus with a strobe light and other striking reminders of its presence is puzzling to say the least. While law enforcement and school officials cannot explain this year's rash of accidents involving buses being struck in the rear end, one can reasonably conclude that drivers were not watching the road.

Already this year, five Manatee County school buses have been rear-ended -- far more than the usual annual average of only one or two such incidents.

Should that rate hold through the entire year, the number will soar to an even more alarming 15 collisions with buses.

In four of this year's crashes, the bus was not moving. Most troubling, though, is the lack of evidence at all five accident scenes of any brake marks by the offending vehicle. That indicates an almost total lack of awareness of the road -- and a lack of concern for the welfare of other motorists and passengers and there were no injuries.

The role that texting and cell phones played in each case is unknown, but there are suspicions since both are dangerously distracting.

In the latest Manatee County crash, a Mustang barreled into a bus on a southbound exit ramp off Interstate 75 onto State Road 70 last Tuesday. The sports car was totalled, and the driver cited for careless driving. Fortunately, the bus only sustained minor damage

These crashes border on reckless driving, a criminal misdemeanor that can result in jail time. Florida law defines reckless driving as any person who drives a vehicle "in a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property."

By slamming into the rear of a stopped school bus with children aboard without applying the brakes, a driver might be deemed "willful or wanton."

The Legislature failed to adopt a ban on texting while driving again this year. Legislators hostile to the bill were more concerned with the idea of government intrusion into people's lives than with public safety, a misplaced priority.

Coincidental to Manatee's rising number of school bus incidents, April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Agencies and organizations are again sounding the alarm about the hazards of texting and cellphone use while driving -- dangers that equal the slow response time of a drunk driver.

Just as unnerving is this comparison: The average text message takes 4.6 seconds. A vehicle going 55 mph will travel 100 yards in that time span -- without the driver's eyes on the road.

We join Manatee County school district officials in imploring the public to be attentive to traffic. Parents, remind young drivers of the dangers of distracted driving, especially texting and cell phones. And everyone, please keep your eyes on the road. Lives are at stake.