Spurred by a fatal school-bus accident in Montgomery County, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation this fall will change its policy governing what driving-record information is released to prospective employers of school-bus drivers in the state.

Private bus contractors and school district officials will be able to see each applicant's full driving record and a one-word description of the severity of any reported accident the applicant has had.

The three choices for the word are fatal, injury, or property, meaning the driver caused death, injury, or property damage, officials said yesterday during a morning news briefing in Norristown.

That kind of information was not available to a private school-bus contractor that hired Frederick Poust 3d a year ago to drive a school bus in Montgomery County's Perkiomen Valley School District, company officials said.

Poust's driving record did not include the fact that in November 1999, as he talked on a cell phone and drove a Ford Explorer, he ran a stop sign in Bucks County, killing a 2-year-old girl and injuring her mother.

On Feb. 17, Poust, 38, was at the wheel of a school bus that turned across traffic into an oncoming car near the Perkiomen Valley Middle School West parking lot in Lower Frederick Township. The early-morning collision killed a passenger in the car and injured the driver.

Poust, of Schwenksville, has been charged with one count of homicide by vehicle in the death of Richard Taylor, 27, of Gilbertsville, and related charges of reckless endangerment.

Lynette Viviani, spokeswoman for Student Transportation of America, the Wall, N.J., company that hired Poust, said on the day of the accident that Poust had worked for the firm for a year and that his driving record for that period was clean.

The company, which contracts with the Perkiomen Valley School District to ferry its 5,900 schoolchildren, later released a statement saying that a state motor-vehicle check failed to reveal Poust's previous fatal accident.

At yesterday's briefing, State Rep. Josh Shapiro (D., Montgomery) said he was prompted to act after the Feb. 17 accident.

"I was outraged when I read the story and heard the comments that someone with a fatal 1999 accident was able to drive a school bus. Something is wrong in the system," Shapiro said he recalled thinking.

For years, Shapiro said, PennDot's policy has been not to release anything other than the last 10 years of a commercial driver's record behind the wheel, and any accident citations.

Shapiro said he and State Rep. Bryan R. Lentz (D., Delaware) lobbied PennDot's safety administration to add detail that would allow bus contractors and school district screeners to recognize drivers with spotty records.

Kurt J. Myers, deputy secretary of PennDot's safety administration, said the agency would grant the legislators' request in October.

"PennDot recognizes the importance of making these changes and will work diligently to shorten the implementation time, if possible," Myers wrote in a letter announcing the change.

Craig Yetter, the safety administration's community relations coordinator, said the current policy has been in force for "as long as anyone can remember."

"We've always provided information," Yetter said. "Right now, we're taking it one step further by including crash severity."

PennDot's safety administration oversees car and truck licensing and registration.