A failure to check

Lapse: Baltimore County bus drivers need more checks for possible stragglers.

February 29, 2000

BALTIMORE County's new policy of firing drivers and attendants who abandon children on school buses sends a strong message, but it won't likely solve the problem. When three different experienced drivers fail to check their buses after parking them, the problem probably runs deeper than an individual driver's inattention.

Last year, Baltimore County, which transports 75,000 students daily, had only one incident where a child was left on a bus. This year, within a six-week period, three children have been found on buses that have been returned to the bus yards. School officials say all of the involved drivers had at least five years of experience and had been properly trained. So the problem isn't about inexperience.

From what little information the county has released on these incidents, it appears that drivers and attendants simply neglected to check for any wayward children.

Two incidents involved pre-school-aged children.

One child, who had fallen asleep, was found after four hours, the other after 15 minutes.

In the most recent incident, a driver failed to drop off an eight-year-old boy at Glenmar Elementary School. When the child stepped off the parked bus, another driver spotted him. Fortunately, no one was injured.

The message to drivers to check buses before they leave them just doesn't seem to be reaching everyone. Walking through a bus after a run should be second nature to the drivers, just as stopping at red lights. Even though driving a bus with as many as 60 boisterous children can be exceedingly stressful, these drivers haven't completed their work until they know the bus is empty.

If another incident should occur this year, the school system should consider having a person in the yard assigned to walk through all incoming buses. If a child is missed during the initial check, the subsequent one should catch any stragglers.

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