Here's why Balto. Co. drivers pass school buses

October 11, 2011

I read with great interest your recent editorial ("Flashing lights ignored," Oct. 6) on Baltimore County drivers ignoring stopped school buses. The primary reason for the high number of violators reported may be that Baltimore County Public School (BCPS) bus drivers have had lots of practice recording violators. This is one of the most important pieces of the problem.

BCPS, unlike almost every school district in the country, does not use the flashing red lights as we were always taught in drivers' education class. In Baltimore County, students can't cross the street when the bus has its flashing red lights on. They must have already crossed the street by themselves and be waiting for the bus at the designated stop before the bus arrives and starts its flashing red lights. After school, the children must again wait at the stop until the bus leaves. Children crossing the street while the bus is at the stop with its red flashing lights on are subject to disciplinary action by the driver. School bus drivers who allow children to cross the street while the bus is stopped and the red lights are flashing are often reported and reprimanded.

This odd policy came to my attention when my two daughters who still ride county school buses had to cross the street to catch the bus. In the northern end of the county, I've noticed children forced to wait at the edges of fields for a long string of cars to clear after the bus pulls off. Often, these cars, either through courtesy or confusion, try to give the kids a break to cross the street after the bus leaves but unless cars going both directions cooperate, the children are often left standing in the middle of the road waiting for a chance to cross.

I had several conversations with the supervisor of county schools transportation office several years ago and she explained that the purpose of this policy was to ease the confusion drivers would experience traveling from Baltimore into the county. I asked about how I could have this policy revisited since we now have as many cars traveling through Baltimore County from Harford, Howard and Carroll counties and was told that the school system had no interest in changing the policy or entertaining any further discussion on the issue.

BCPS has created a self-fulfilling policy — drivers do not stop because they have not seen kids crossing the street when a bus has its flashing lights on. But, primarily, the great number of reported bus violators is a matter of reportage. The system has for many years encouraged its bus drivers to record tag numbers of violators. The high number of violators in Baltimore County may simply be because bus drivers in other jurisdictions are watching to help students safely cross the street and not recording violators. BCPS has decided that the best policy is to let our children fend for themselves crossing the street leaving the flashing red lights out of the equation. If you think crossing the street is dangerous when a bus is stopped and flashing a warning to drivers, try crossing the street without any assistance. Cars on our 30 mile per hour street routinely travel in excess of 40 mph.

BCPS does try to pick up students on the side of the street of their residence, which is safe, but requires buses to turn around in private parking lots, back into side streets to turn around, etc. I've seen drivers use their flashing red lights to stop traffic while they turn their buses around.

On the positive side, every bus driver that I have met or driven with (on field trips, etc.) has been professional, friendly and a good driver.

I am strongly in favor of using any means necessary to enforce the flashing red light law, but in Baltimore County, will this make our children's journey to school any safer? Our county executive needs to look at all the factors to make county school bus transportation as safe as possible.

William Feustle

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