Getting people to yield to safety

Drivers recognized for their efforts during National School Bus Safety Week

October 22, 2006|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Sun Reporter

The next time you're in a hurry and think you can get by a school bus making its umpteenth stop, think about this: The fine for passing a stopped school bus with its red lights flashing is $570 and three points on your driving record.

And you will most likely be cited because school bus drivers note license plate numbers, car descriptions, time, date and location of violations, and report them to the police and to the Carroll County Public Schools' Transportation Department.

"I have up to a year to issue a violation," said Sheriff's Deputy 1st Class Conrad Dill, who has already issued 50 citations this school year on almost daily bus patrols. "It can happen to anybody -- blue collar, professional. One school teacher even ran a bus light."

During National School Bus Safety Week last week, Dill and officers from the Maryland State Police and town police departments were out watching for school bus violators as part of a stepped up campaign.

And there are plenty of buses out on Carroll roads during the school year.

"Our buses travel 6 million miles a year," said Jim Doolan, public schools' transportation director. "We have 301 buses everyday traveling the roads on 236 regular routes and 65 special ed routes, including 15 routes outside the county to 20 private schools; 236 buses that do three runs every morning and every afternoon, a total of 708 routes a day, and over 9,000 stops."

More than 27,000 students are eligible to ride a bus, Doolan said.

School bus safety is paramount with the school system and police.

The county gets a $35,000 state grant for overtime to police for bus patrols, Doolan said. Officers follow buses, sometimes ride a bus, and talk to students about bus safety throughout the year, he said.

The Carroll County Health Department also presents special programs to different schools, this year to Linton Springs and Westminster elementary schools.

"We set up Otto the Auto with AAA on Monday, and Tuesday was the Westminster City Police school bus safety program," said Maggie Beatty, coordinator of the Health Department's Safe Kids Coalition. "We just want to make sure the children understand the safety rules at their bus stop and the importance of them."

The schools, and some students, also recognize the drivers during bus safety week by inviting them to breakfast or giving them gift bags or cards.

Denise Walsh, a second-year school bus driver in the Hampstead area, said Spring Garden Elementary gave its drivers a bag of Jill's Jams and Jellies products, and Shiloh Middle's bus coordinators greeted their drivers with cookies and handmade note pads.

Two of her Spring Garden pupils drew her pictures and signed them.

"That made my day. It really does help you feel appreciated," Walsh said while waiting Wednesday afternoon for North Carroll High School to let out.

The teens straggled on by ones and twos, spreading out over the green seats. The afternoon load was light, as about half of her 25 or so students were at sports or music programs.

She greeted each pupil, calling them "sweetie" or "honey" even though she knows all their names.

"I always talk to the kids -- I have to," she said. "When we get a good topic, we have good conversations. I have a great relationship with all ages -- I feel they know what I need them to do, and they know they can talk to me if they have any issues."

Junior Eric McGee said, "We have the best bus in the county. We're the quietest bus, too."

Walsh agreed.

"And she doesn't drive like a crazy person," added Katherine Grantland, also a junior. The bus erupted in laughter.

Freshman Melissa Grow was a new rider, having been switched from an overcrowded bus to Walsh's run.

"I like how there's not a lot of people -- my other bus had three to a seat -- and the bus driver is really nice, she talks to you," Melissa said.

After dropping off the teens and stopping at the end of the run to make sure nobody was left on the bus and all her lights worked, Walsh drove to Shiloh Middle for her second run. Spring Garden Elementary ends the day.

In contrast to the older teens, about 45 "tweens" bombarded the bus with a surge of noisy energy, this time filling all the seats. On a quick detour past the high school, the girls shrieked at a boys' sports team sitting out by the driveway.

"This is where you eighth-graders will go next year," Walsh told them. "Cute boys, cute girls."

She took the noise, the chatter and shrieks in stride, laughing with the kids, listening to one pupil tell her about something that happened that day.

"I'm so lucky to have good runs," she said.

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