Teaching unsafe drivers a lesson State troopers ride Carroll school buses to improve safety

October 22, 1998|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Trooper Edward Winkler and his colleagues kept motorists in Carroll County -- and the pupils on School Bus 123 -- on their best behavior yesterday.

Pressed, polished and ramrod straight, Winkler sat amid the ball caps and bulging backpacks of schoolchildren, ready to catch any drivers illegally passing the bus when its flashing lights were on.

Such incidents are soaring in Carroll County, police say. This week, to mark National School Bus Safety Week, state police troopers from the Westminster barracks are riding school buses to see if they can catch motorists who violate state school bus laws.

A constant fear for school officials, bus drivers, police and parents is that a motorist will run down a child getting on or off a bus. That hasn't occurred in Carroll County for about 10 years, but it happened in neighboring Frederick County on Tuesday morning, when a 14-year-old Buckeystown girl was struck by a car.

The girl's injuries were minor. A 26-year-old Frederick man has been charged with passing a stopped school bus before hitting the girl.

In Carroll County, where 80 private school bus contractors ferry 21,000 students twice daily, James Doolan, the school system's transportation supervisor, said he receives two or three written complaints each week. Bus drivers report seeing many more violations, but often cannot get a violator's license number or a description of the car and its driver.

Wanda Sparks, who drove Bus 123 yesterday on her 8 a.m. run to Spring Garden Elementary in Hampstead, said two cars passed her on Route 30 when the red flashers were on during high school and middle school runs, before Winkler boarded the bus.

Sparks said she was too occupied with traffic and watching her passengers board to get tag numbers and descriptions.

"It's a violation I am looking for every school day," said Trooper Jearld Immler, who has issued three or four citations in the past year. "They just don't pass a stopped school bus when we are sitting there."

Had Winkler witnessed a violation yesterday, Immler, following behind the bus in a marked patrol car, would have stopped the vehicle and issued its driver a $270 ticket. Troopers on the bus details have issued one warning this week, 1st Sgt. Dean Richardson said.

State transportation laws require motorists to 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 the red warning lights are activated.

The number of violations statewide is unknown, authorities said yesterday, but officials in Carroll County say the number here is growing.

"A school bus law violation is the only payable traffic fine that we routinely prosecute, if the violator decides not to pay it and wants a trial," said David P. Daggett, an assistant state's attorney in Carroll.

Prosecutors have obtained 31 convictions in 37 cases against violators of the school bus laws during the first seven months of this year, Daggett said. He said that would project to 63 cases for the year.

"We only had 28 cases involving school bus violations all last year and only 16 the year before," he said.

Pub Date: 10/22/98

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