Drivers get lessons in HASTE

Police program targets speeders in school zones

Reminder summer is over

September 07, 2001|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

The five figures in blue - one pointing a laser gun - were a menacing sight to hasty motorists outside Atholton High School in Columbia yesterday morning.

Three squad cars, an undercover Howard County police car and a motorcycle unit sat behind the officers at Freetown Road and Hawkeye Run.

A dozen drivers, including one school bus driver with a load of children, didn't have to wonder why police were gathered near the school: They drove away, at a much slower pace, with tickets for speeding in a school zone.

"People just don't pay attention to the speed they're going," said Pfc. Troy Bailey, one of the officers outside Atholton High yesterday. "They just get comfortable in their routes and don't even notice their speed anymore."

As part of an enforcement program that runs until the end of the month, Howard police have been stationed outside area schools looking for drivers who speed through school zones before and after school, times when pedestrian traffic is thickest.

Through Operation HASTE, or "Helping Arriving Students Through Enforcement," police in Howard, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties use the beginning of school to remind drivers of the dangers of speeding through those zones.

The state grant-funded program appeared in the region about five years ago.

"It's a shock back into the reality that school's back in [session] and buses are out again," said Sgt. James Fredericks of the traffic safety section of Anne Arundel police.

Anne Arundel's program ran during the first week of school, which began Aug. 27. Baltimore County's program runs this week and next. Howard County police said they are extending the program to the end of the month using Police Department money.

Atholton School Resource Officer Allison Timmons and Atholton Principal Connie Lewis see HASTE as a way to force people to slow down.

"This sets the tone for the school year," Lewis said. "Seatbelts and speed are my two big things. The students call my talk about them `the speech.'"

Lewis pleads for students to slow down every year, in part because her son died in a car crash about five years ago. But her speeches have tragic undertones this year because Atholton student Danny Ong was killed in a car accident June 13, the last day of school.

"I know firsthand what the Ongs are going through, and I don't want it to happen to any other families," Lewis said.

Ong was apparently speeding around a curve on Harriet Tubman Lane when his car skidded and crashed into a utility pole, police said. His younger brother, Tony Ong, now a junior at Atholton, was trapped in the front passenger seat and suffered leg injuries; a backseat passenger was not seriously injured.

Baltimore County officers also have kept an eye out for drivers who pass school buses while their red lights are flashing, police spokesman Bill Toohey said.

Anne Arundel began a similar program the first week of school and will continue it through the end of the school year, police said.

Howard County police said they plan to start monitoring school buses soon and will continue through the school year.

Many people aren't aware that state law requires motorists on both sides of the street, unless there is a median, to stop while a bus' red lights are flashing, Fredericks said. Police said their presence at the beginning of the school year reminds people about those safety issues.

The speeders who police ticketed in Howard County yesterday were going more than 10 mph over the posted limit of 25 mph when the school zone lights were flashing, which means violators are subject to a double fine. Most of the citations issued were for $140.

The tickets started flowing just after the morning bell rang at 7:30. Only one of the drivers pulled over was a student.

"I often stand out in the parking lot at lunch, and most of the people whipping by are adults," Lewis said. "But kids seem to think they're invincible when they're in the car, too."

The school bus driver was clocked going 10 miles over the limit. Of all people, an officer said, a bus driver should know how important it is to slow down.

The officers outside Atholton said it is important for police to enforce the speed limit, especially in school zones, but they doubt drivers will permanently change their behavior.

"The effect might last a while, but they'll be looking for us tomorrow and the next day," Bailey said. "After they don't see us for a while, their normal habits will come back."

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