Change in school bus policy likely BALTIMORE COUNTY

March 18, 1993|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writer

Baltimore County schoolchildren may one day be able to cross the street as children in every other Maryland county do -- under the protection of their school bus's flashing red lights.

The county's Senate delegation to the General Assembly has overwhelmingly approved a local bill to end the county's practice of requiring students to cross the street before their bus arrives in the morning and after it pulls away in the afternoon.

If the House delegation also approves the legislation, the full General Assembly would likely pass the bill as a local courtesy.

Rita Fromm, the county's school transportation director, called that prospect "unfortunate" yesterday.

"I don't think you can look at the statistics and say with certainty that this is the best way to go," she said.

County school officials believe children are safer crossing on their own.

They say bus flashers create "a false sense of security," given the frequency with which drivers from the city pass loading school buses.

It is illegal everywhere in Maryland, except Baltimore, to pass a stopped school bus if its red flashers are on.

"We report literally dozens of violations every week," Miss Fromm said. Police counted at least 120 violations between mid-December and the first week in February.

City motorists often don't realize that they have crossed into the county, and many ignore the flashers. Miss Fromm has said Baltimore County has the state's highest incidence of such violations.

"If the stop law worked," she said, "I would not be nearly as concerned as I am. But in the county, they pass [school buses] all the time. It's not unheard of to have them passing on the right."

If the crossing measure does pass, Miss Fromm said she would seek to delay implementation until county school buses can be equipped with a safety device called a "cow sweep" -- a metal arm that swings out from the front bumper and forces children to cross at least 10 feet in front of a bus, where the driver can see them.

Nationally, she said, about half the youngsters killed crossing the street are killed by their own bus. The cost to equip the county's 700 buses with sweeps was not available.

In addition to the sweeps, the county also would mount a publicity campaign alerting motorists to the changes.

Republican Sen. F. Vernon Boozer of the county's 9th District, filed the crossing legislation after 11-year-old Joey Vinci, of White Hall, was struck and killed Jan. 28 as he ran across Old York Road to his bus stop.

As originally written, Mr. Boozer's bill would have required school transportation officials to reroute buses so that no child would have had to cross the street to reach the stop. The Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee killed a statewide version of the bill after transportation officials complained that it would require more stops, more buses and longer bus rides.

A fiscal note attached to the bill put the annual statewide cost at $29 million.

The committee then amended a Baltimore County version of the bill, dropping the rerouting language and instead requiring students to cross under the protection of the bus flashers. That would put Baltimore County in conformity with the 22 other counties.

Senator Boozer said he preferred his original bill, but, "You do what you can do."

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