Baltimore County police to be 'out in force' to ensure students' safety as school begins

Days before the new school year starts and students flood sidewalks and streets to get to buses and classes, police and school officials were reminding drivers to “look up and look out” to ensure the students’ safe arrivals and departures.

Capt. Eliot Latchaw, commanding officer of the Wilkens Police Precinct, speaking during a press conference at Hillcrest Elementary School in Catonsville Thursday, said the department will be “out in force” during school arrival and dismissal times to monitor school buses, traffic flow and crosswalks, and to make sure crossing guards “aren’t being ignored.”

“You're going to see a large increase in proactive enforcement from the Baltimore County Police Department,” said Latchaw, to about a dozen school system officials, Hillcrest teachers and the media at the early-afternoon conference.

Jennifer Lynch, the principal of Hillcrest Elementary, said the school has two crossing guards and about 140 students who walk to and from school.

Lynch said Hillcrest does not have a pervasive issue with pedestrian safety.

But the school’s location on Frederick Road, a state highway, “typifies” the scenarios and situations that Baltimore County Public Schools wants motorists to be cognizant of, according to David McCrae, the school system’s director of transportation.

The road sees a steady traffic flow and has two lanes going both east and west. On an average school day, more than 18,700 vehicles travel along Frederick Road.

“That is the very reason we want people to pay attention to this ‘look out,’ drive safe message,” said David McCrae, the system’s director of transportation.

Preventing pedestrian fatalities

One hundred and eleven pedestrians were killed in Maryland in 2017, and 257 school-aged children were injured while walking during school arrival and dismissal times, according to the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration.

Greg Slater, administrator of the State Highway Administration, said “That is way too many — 257 too many,” adding that there is “no contest” between a school-aged child and a motor vehicle.

According to Ragina Cooper Averella, manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic, more school-aged children are killed in traffic accidents between 7-8 a.m. and 3-4 p.m. than any other time of day.

“Pedestrian fatalities remain at a 25-year high, for the second year in a row, with nearly 6,000 pedestrians dying on our nation's roadways in 2016 and 2017,” she said.

Meanwhile, Baltimore County Public Schools manages more than 800 bus routes making more than 2,000 trips each school day morning and evening, officials said.

McCrae said the school system does not have statistics on the number of students who walk versus those who are driven or bike to school, but did say that about a third of county students are not eligible for bus transportation leaving them to walk, ride bikes or get a ride to school.

To be eligible for bus transportation, an elementary or middle school student must live within 1 mile of his or her school. For high school students, that distance increases to 1.5 miles.

During Thursday’s gathering, state and local officials urged pedestrians to use crosswalks whenever possible, to walk across the street instead of run, and not to wear headphones, text or play games while walking.

They urged drivers to always stop for pedestrians, and reminded motorists that passing a stopped school bus with its flashing red lights on and a stop arm extended is illegal from either side of the road.

“When you see [a bus], slow down. Take a couple extra seconds,” Latchaw said. “Patience is a virtue.”

Thursdays event ended when a dozen Hillcrest Students from the AAA School Safety Patrol Program, clad in reflective green belts, came out from behind a school bus and chanted for pedestrians and drivers to “look up, look out.” he gathering at Hillcrest was to remind pedestrians and drivers alike to “look up and look out” during school arrival and dismissal times.

cboteler@baltsun.com

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