Put the brakes on school bus bill

March 30, 1994

Baltimore County legislators aren't adverse to micro-managing the local school system. It's bad enough when their actions are destined to cause more hassles than they would solve. It's another matter entirely when proposed legislation could jeopardize the safety of children. Such a possibility would result if the delegation approves a proposed bill to change the way school buses pick up and drop off students.

The county's long-standing practice requires children to be waiting at their stops before the bus arrives in the morning and after it pulls away in the afternoon. The measure proposed by Towson Sen. Vernon Boozer would require children to cross the street when both approaching and leaving the bus, under the "protection" of the vehicle's flashing lights. Youngsters would move only when waved across the road by the bus driver.

Mr. Boozer first drafted his bill early last year, just after 11-year-old Joseph Vinci of White Hall was struck and killed by a car as he ran across Old York Road to reach his bus stop. (Police attributed the death, the first connected to a county school bus in recent memory, to pedestrian error.) The senator's proposal may be well-intentioned, but, as county police and school officials point out, motorists routinely fail to stop for flashing lights on school buses. Do lawmakers really want to send their youngest constituents into the street guarded only by the dangerous assumption that traffic will halt for them? This very method was blamed for the deaths of 22 U.S. school children last year.

County police also have spoken out against using hand signals to guide pedestrians. Local officers, in fact, are trained to give only oral commands to pedestrians. Besides, children could all too easily misconstrue a bus driver's hand signals.

Each day in Baltimore County, up to 70,000 public school students ride the bus. The majority of them don't have to cross streets to reach their stops. Ideally, every bus-rider would receive curbside service; yet another 40,000 county students walk to and from school daily, many without the aid of crossing guards. Meantime, the county teaches pedestrian safety in the schools. Above all, parents must see that their children understand and practice proper street-crossing techniques.

The full Senate has already given its approval to the Boozer bill. Baltimore County's delegates will decide the fate of the measure when they meet Friday. We urge them to vote it down. The safety of children could depend on it.

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