Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Got to stop

All UAE school buses have for the past couple of years been yellow, in the style of North American school buses, even Toyota Hiace minibuses. 

Some ravening bureaucrat decreed that the four-way hazards and brake lights should flash whenever the brakes were applied, which was a ludicrous idea because you couldn’t tell if a braking bus was slowing to enter a bus stop or to turn left or right. Thankfully, this ridiculousness seems to have been addressed, and the flashing lights that come on with the brakes are now additional to the normal brake lights and indicators.

Something else borrowed from North America is the swing-out STOP sign. Whenever a school bus stops and the door is opened to let passengers on or off, a red, octagonal STOP sign swings out and red lights flash. As far as I can ascertain from the internet and my American friends and family, when the sign is deployed, it’s illegal to pass the bus. On a single carriageway, that’s in both directions. The basic idea is that children can cross the road to and from a school bus without being hit by cars overtaking the bus.

I was going to have a rant about this a couple of years ago, but decided not to because it seems the legality of and penalty for passing one of these bus-mounted STOP signs depends on which US state you’re in.

The inevitable tragedy recently happened. Reported in 7DAYS, it seems a seventeen-year-old got off her school bus in Dibba Fujairah and was hit by a car. What a senseless waste. My understanding from the newspaper story, inferred from the bus driver being detained and questioned by the police, is that the bus was at the roadside when the collision occurred. Did the student cross the road when the STOP sign was deployed? The newspaper doesn’t say. 

Here is the problem. It’s very easy for the police and the courts to come down on the driver who hit a pedestrian crossing the road with a “You passed a school bus showing its STOP sign. That is forbidden. You are culpable.” But where is the requirement to stop enshrined in law? Certainly I’ve never seen it written. Is it a legal requirement in the UAE to stop behind one of these buses? My personal experience of stopping on Street 71 in Mirdif when the school bus deploys its STOP sign is that I get hooted at by the driver tailgating me, and everyone else razzes past the bus in the fast lane.

Legal issues aside, what possesses someone to hurtle past a stopped school bus or ice-cream van? These are both child magnets. Not UAE law, but the UK Highway Code (Rule 209) says to: “Drive carefully and slowly when passing a stationary bus showing a ‘School Bus’ sign,” and Rule 206 includes the note that “…children are more interested in ice cream than traffic…”

We’re back to the same old mantra that I’ve talked about before. Local highway authorities cherry-pick ideas from international design standards, and similarly cherry-pick the rules for road users. Drivers from any of 150 or more different nationalities apply their own versions of what is right (and what they can get away with), or have learned from driving instructors who apply their own opinions from their own training and experience. And no, it isn’t “obvious” that you don’t cross an unbroken centreline, that parking is forbidden on double yellow lines, or you’re not allowed to drive on the breakdown lane. Normal custom and practice, perhaps, but unless It Is Written, it isn’t the Law.

What is desperately needed is a federal rule book; a Highway Code, if you will. With all the rules written down and publicly available, there’s much less scope for wild interpretation. And no, printing up a list of traffic offences in the local paper does not constitute publishing a Highway Code.


1 comment:

Brn said...

I think that the penalty for passing a stopped school bus varies by state, but it is universally illegal in all states. I know that when I was taking Drivers Ed in North Carolina you got more black points for passing a stopped school bus than for any other infraction.


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