Sunday, December 21, 2008

Police and School Bus Drivers Work Together - "The video camera system has kept up with the number of complaints and citations continuing to roll in"

DANVILLE — More than one driver was schooled this year as part of a new program to keep students safe around school buses.

First Student bus service has implemented a video camera system on its buses for this school year, working with city police to take a stand against reckless drivers who ignore bus stop arms. Officer Tim Kentner coordinated the effort in which police conducted follow-up investigations based on car and motorist descriptions as well as license plate numbers reported by bus driv-ers.

Kentner said he has received 59 complaints of school bus law violations during the current school semester, making it 95 total complaints since January when the program began.

Of those, 44 citations were issued to drivers for passing school buses. Revoked or suspended driver’s license citations were issued in only a couple cases.

Just this week, citations were issued for passing school buses on Nov. 13 in the 1600 block of East Fairchild Street and Dec. 1 at Sager and Buchanan streets.

“It’s still pretty steady,” Kentner said. “DHS is one of our biggest problem areas.”

The video camera system has kept up with the number of complaints and citations continuing to roll in. Ami Sprague, safety coordinator for First Student, said the violations “continue to be a really bad problem,” and noted the company has had weekly and sometimes daily contacts with Kentner because of the number of violations.

She added a number of the bus drivers have been called to court for their testimony, showing that the citations are progressing through the court system.

“If we could stop the violations it’d be even better,” Sprague said.

With the new system, the video cameras switch on as soon as the stop arm for the bus is extended. The camera catches the vehicle’s license plate as it passes the bus. First Student drivers are trained to watch their mirrors, looking for a vehicle that may pass the bus before giving students the OK to cross the street.

In cases where a vehicle goes through the bus stop sign, drivers radio in the violation and vehicle information. A report is later filed with Kentner and video of the incident is downloaded and stored for any court matters.

The program isn’t just focused on motorists. Kentner said he has also offered suggestions to the bus drivers, relaying what the cited motorists say about them.

“It’s resolved a couple issues about how or when to put out the stop arm,” Kentner said.

Drivers who are convicted of a stop arm violation face a stiff penalty. A first offender will receive a fine of $150 while a second offense earns the motorists a $500 fine. Drivers also face a three-month suspension of their license.

Laws became stiffer for violators as of this year. A vehicle owner who won’t reveal who was driving the vehicle at the time of the violation can receive a three-month license suspension as well.