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Driving distracted around school buses a top concern as school year is in full swing

"We're always reporting of people going through red lights. All the time," a Falmouth bus driver said.

FALMOUTH, Maine — Driving distracted around school buses is happening far too often. On Monday, an SUV crashed into the back of a bus in Orrington after the driver was distracted by one of the children in their vehicle, according to the Penobscot County Sheriff's Office.

Distracted driving kills an average of nine people every day across America, Thomas Baran, a AAA traffic safety education specialist at Northern New England, said. He said the thought of even one of those deaths involving a child on their way to school is devastating.

"Just a couple of seconds looking down can change a lot," Baran said.

Once you see the bus put its yellow lights on, that means it's getting ready to stop, Baran said. When a bus flashes its red lights and its stop arm comes out, all traffic coming from the opposite direction and behind the school bus needs to come to a complete stop.

Numbers from the Maine Department of Transportation show there were about 115 crashes involving school buses last year. Not all of the crashes resulted in people getting injured or involved other vehicles.

"We're always reporting of people going through red lights. All the time," Hans Brandes, a Falmouth bus driver, said.

Brandes has been a part-time bus driver for the past five years. He said one of his biggest concerns on the roads these days are distracted drivers.

"We got to be a hawk-eye about that making sure every step of the way goes okay," he said.

In May, a 13-year-old child was hospitalized after being hit by a tractor-trailer truck while getting off of a school bus in Gray-New Gloucester. The student was reportedly crossing in front of the bus at their regular bus stop when they were struck, according to a news release from the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office.

"Think about how you would feel if it was your children getting on and off that bus," Lauren Stewart, director of the Bureau of Highway Safety, said. "If you're doing other things while driving, the chances of you missing some of those small cues or large cues from a big yellow bus with flashing lights people are still missing that."

Baran said not giving yourself enough time in the morning is no excuse to hurry and rush, especially when it comes to children's lives.

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