School drivers lobby against proposed safety law

March 26, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

The death of sixth-grader Joseph Stephen Vinci as he tried to cross Old York Road on a dark January morning last year to catch his school bus has left Baltimore County's legislators with a dilemma.

If they listen to Joey's father, aunt and neighbors, Baltimore County will join the other 22 Maryland counties that require school buses to stop, with red signals flashing, before children cross busy streets to board or go home.

But if they listen to the objections of county school officials and bus drivers, they will leave the responsibility for safety while crossing streets to and from school buses with children and parents, as it is in Baltimore.

All who crowded into the county's House of Delegates delegation room yesterday said they want safety for children.

But bus drivers and county officials who operate the 604-vehicle fleet said the change would make crossings more dangerous for children.

They argue that drivers increasingly do not stop for school buses with flashing red lights, despite the threat of a $250 fine and two points on their driving records. Bus drivers worry that if the law is changed as proposed under Senate Bill 79, they will witness the death or injury of children under their protection.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. F. Vernon Boozer, a Towson Republican, requires that students living on roads with speed limits above 40 mph be picked up on same side of the street as their home.

It also requires that bus drivers on roads with speed limits of 40 mph or less stop the bus, with its red lights flashing, and motion to students before they may cross the street to their bus.

The bill has been approved by the Senate. If approved by the county House delegation, it will likely become law, because the House routinely passes local bills that have delegation support.

John and C. Ann Vinci have a $20 million suit pending against Baltimore County in the death of their 11-year-old son, who was ** struck by a pickup truck. The accident was due to pedestrian error, police said.

County bus drivers now stop and use their red flashing lights when taking on or discharging students. On morning runs, children are required to be at the stop before the bus arrives. After discharging children, drivers don't wait for them to cross the street before leaving.

The bus drivers were particularly vehement about hand motions, arguing that some car drivers could interpret that as permission to go.

Rita Fromm, transportation coordinator for the school system, said the county now stops on the home side of 80 percent of the 70,000 children who ride buses. She did not object to the bill's same-side provision for roads with speed limits of more

than 40 mph.

Ms. Fromm said 40,000 county youngsters walk to school, and they learn to cross streets safely.

In the first three months of the current school year, county bus drivers recorded 230 instances in which motorists drove past school buses stopped with their flashing red lights on, she said.

Drivers who receive tickets for infractions are treated lightly by county judges, she said.

Ms. Fromm told legislators that 22 children were killed last year in the United States by motorists who drove past stopped school buses with flashing lights. One child was killed in Howard County two years ago.

"I've never felt more passionately" about an issue, she said.

"A day never goes by where I am not confronted with insults, obscene gestures and vulgarities from other motorists who feel they are inconvenienced because I am picking up and discharging your children," said Chloe Eurice, a 30-year veteran.

The House delegation is due to vote on the bill next week.

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