Carroll school officials, police partner for bus safety

August 31, 2004|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN STAFF

Saying that children are endangered every time a driver fails to stop for a school bus flashing its red lights, Carroll County school officials highlighted yesterday a partnership with local police departments to target law-breaking motorists.

As the first day of school started, school officials emphasized at a news conference yesterday that police on the streets are looking for drivers who don't stop for buses that are picking up or dropping off children.

"Police presence was everywhere" throughout the county yesterday, said Jim Doolan, the school system's transportation director.

Police officials did not have an estimate of how many drivers received citations yesterday.

The campaign is funded through a $600,000 state grant to the Maryland State Police dubbed the "Fly-by Grant" because it targets drivers who "fly past stopped buses," Doolan said.

Of that amount, the state police awarded $31,500 to Carroll County police departments to pay police who work overtime patrolling bus routes and checking up on complaints of drivers illegally passing school buses.

"This is $31,500 in additional police work to stop the serious problem of running red lights," Doolan said. "We have a problem - if we have one [driver speeding past a stopped bus], it's one too many."

The grant program was designed as a three-year project, Doolan said, but was extended indefinitely when the General Assembly realized its effectiveness.

In addition to continuing the grant, legislators passed a law that raises to $1,000 the maximum fine for a driver who doesn't stop for a bus with flashing red lights. The maximum fine had been $500. The new fine takes effect Oct. 1.

Police officials stressed their commitment to the effort.

"We see this as a priority - to protect children and make sure they get to school safely," Chief John Williams of the Sykesville Police Department said yesterday.

Last year, police responded to 55 complaints from bus drivers regarding motorists illegally passing school buses, Doolan said.

That figure does not include instances when police cited drivers for other violations, such as speeding in a school zone or passing on the right.

Police patrol school routes in several ways, Doolan said. Besides marked patrol cars along bus routes, they use unmarked cars to follow buses. Officers also ride school buses.

Carroll is one of two counties chosen for a pilot program that will place cameras both inside and outside of 30 buses this school year.

The school system also has a list of "hot spots" that includes about two dozen intersections where violations occurred last year, Doolan said. The intersections are in the Westminster, South Carroll and North Carroll areas.

The patrols are purposely sporadic, he said.

"Motorists don't know where [the patrols] will be from day to day," Doolan said.

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