Troopers to ride on school buses Safety action next week will target violators

October 14, 1998|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

State troopers, looking to remind motorists about Maryland school bus laws, plan to ride shotgun on randomly selected buses in Carroll County next week.

With more than 21,000 county students riding buses twice daily, the potential for tragedy is too great to be complacent, school transportation officials and troopers from the Westminster barracks said yesterday.

The police effort was announced at Friendship Valley Elementary yesterday to publicize National School Bus Safety Week, Oct. 19-23.

"I hear five or six [school bus] drivers complaining every day about motorists ignoring the flashing red lights," said Irene Johnson, owner and operator of Johnson's Bus Service in Westminster.

Curtailing violations of the Maryland school bus law is a constant concern, but not all state police barracks will be involved in similar operations next week, said Capt. Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman.

"This [ride-the-bus] technique and others have been used statewide," Shipley said.

In Carroll County, school bus violations are not a big problem, said 1st Sgt. Dean Richardson. However, enforcement is a priority to remind drivers to be alert near school buses.

Troopers to be observers

Troopers will ride buses as observers. If they see a violation, they will radio troopers in patrol cars following the buses to make a traffic stop and issue a citation, Richardson said.

Richardson would not provide specifics of the operation.

School buses run 292 regular routes and make about 16,000 stops between 6: 30 a.m. and 5: 30 p.m. every school day, said David Reeve, an assistant in school transportation.

"That's 16,000 opportunities for a disaster to happen, if [motorists] fail to stop when a bus driver is picking up or dropping off a child," he said.

About 80 vendors operating more than 300 buses contract with the county to provide transportation.

As one of the largest contractors with a fleet of 28 buses, Johnson has seen many violators and "a lot of near misses," but no fatalities in more than 30 years in business.

Reeve said about 10 years ago, a vehicle passed a school bus on the right, drove onto a front yard and struck a student, who had just gotten off a county school bus.

"Fortunately, the injury was minor," he said.

State transportation laws require that motorists must slow as soon as the yellow warning lights on a school bus begin flashing. They must stop at least 20 feet in front of, or behind a school bus when its red warning lights are flashing, Richardson said.

Sign swings outward

Buses also are equipped with a red stop sign on the driver's side, which swings outward when red flashers are activated, said Reeve.

Occasionally, bus drivers are able to get a violator's license tag number and a description of the driver, and that leads to police issuing a citation, Reeve said.

"More often, bus drivers are too busy watching their passengers and the traffic around them to get a tag number and a description of the [violator]," Johnson said.

Violators who are caught and given a citation often choose to go to court, said Reeve. "And the No. 1 excuse they tell a judge is 'I didn't see the school bus.'

"Bright yellow buses, yellow and red flashers, a stop sign and new buses must have a white strobe light [on the rear of the roof], and they still say they don't see the bus," Reeve said.

The maximum penalty for violating the school bus law is two points and a $270 fine, Richardson said.

For motorists nabbed next week, a bus filled with laughing schoolchildren might be the harshest penalty of all.

Pub Date: 10/14/98

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