WASHINGTON – Even though she enjoys going to school every day, Karen Patton is tired of taking tests.
A school bus driver for 20 years, she has had to update her qualifications several times, so when the state came out with a new written test last year, Patton met it with frustration.
“Basically what it is is what we’re already doing,” the Prince George’s County driver said.
Maryland school bus drivers have until Sept. 30 to pass a written test or stop driving, but most have already met the requirement, said the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.
Of the 15,400 school bus drivers in Maryland, more than 11,500 have passed the written exam since the state began administering it in June 2005.
Because licensed school bus drivers have already taken an on-the-road skills test, which covers evacuation, warning lights and other topics similar to those on the new exam, taking the test does not require much preparation, said Buel Young, spokesman for the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.
“Anyone who already has the ‘S’ endorsement possesses the knowledge to pass this test,” he said.
The “S” endorsement indicates that a driver is licensed to operate a school bus.
But for drivers like Patton, who only had the “P,” or passenger, endorsement, meeting the new requirement took more effort.
She had to prove that she knew how to operate a school bus all over again in addition to taking the written test.
The state began requiring “S” endorsements about four years ago, Patton said, but because her mother was ill she could not find time to take the necessary exams until last year.
“They made me stop driving. Told me I had to go get the ‘S’ endorsement,” she said.
Most of those who have not taken the exam have moved on to other jobs or no longer want to drive school buses, said Young.
Drivers who don’t pass the written test by Sept. 30 will not be able to drive school buses unless they reapply for a commercial driver’s license, receive a learner’s permit and retake the skills and written tests, Young said.
School districts are responsible for checking if drivers have up to date licenses.
Michael Dodson, Prince George’s schools transportation director, said 90 percent of county drivers have taken the test.
The county teamed up with the Motor Vehicle Administration in the summer of 2005 to prepare drivers and administer the exam. Another make-up test was offered during the academic year, he said.
“The few that haven’t taken it are on their own to take it by the end of the month,” Dodson said.
In Montgomery County, officials taught classes and distributed study guides to drivers, said James Beasley, supervisor of the Safety and Training Unit at the schools’ transportation department.
“It benefits us to track this and to make sure our drivers have the ‘S’ endorsement,” he said.
Maryland administers the written test to comply with the federal Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act, which toughened the requirements for obtaining commercial driver’s licenses.
The law, passed in 1999, at first called on drivers to take the written test by Sept. 30 of last year. Young said the deadline was extended because the steps for implementing the law had not been released in time for states to carry it out.
Drivers can take the free test at full-service Motor Vehicle Administration offices on weekdays or Saturday mornings.