Legislation aimed at discouraging Virginia's high school students from driving to and from school collided today with the General Assembly's traditional aversion to measures that regulate private life.
The bill, called an energy-saving proposal by its sponsor, Del. C. Jefferson Stafford (R-Giles), would prohibit students from parking on school property if they live within 2 1/2 miles of school or have access to public transportation. Exceptions would be made for students who need a car before or after school to go to work.
"Energy has simply become too expensive to waste," said Stafford, who claimed passage of the bill could eliminate up to 200,000 miles of driving per day by the 134,000 high school students around the state. "There is a total waste of energy in all these students driving to school."
But Stafford ran headlong into skeptical members of the House Education Committee who questioned whether such a measure could be enforced.
Trying to win converts, Stafford told committee members the measure was favored by parents, who saw it as a way to end continual squabbles over rights to the family car.
"I don't think we should put the General Assembly in the position of having to make decisions for parents," retorted Del. James A. Davis (D-Franklin).
Most committee members were reluctant to accept responsibility for a measure that would cause administrative problems for local school officials and possibly snarl traffic as students left school lots for parking spaces on side streets.
Instead, most seemed to favor a resolution that would urge localities to restrict school parking for students, thus shifting that potentially unpopular decision back to local school districts. The committee scheduled a final decision for Thursday.
Speaking against the proposal, Howard Sullens, the superintendent of schools in Chesterfield County, said Richmond area high school principals were unanimously opposed to Stafford's bill.
"Each youngster's needs vary from day to day as to whether he needs to take the car to school," Sullens said, adding that it would be almost impossible for school staff members to keep abreast of those changing needs. "This bill would place an intolerable burden on high school principals."
Other delegates wondered how school authorities could precisely define a student job and how officials could keep students from continuing their daily auto trips to school when they parked off school grounds. They agreed, however, that an outright ban on students driving to school was not within school authority and could well be unconstitutional.
Del. J. W. O'Brien Jr. (D-Virginia Beach) suggested that a move to raise the age for issuing drivers permits, similar to one he launched recently, might serve to cut back on driving by the state's high school students.