Monday, August 23, 2010

School bus cameras aim to curb drivers passing on red

If you speed past a school bus Monday, smile -- you might be on camera.
Frederick County Public Schools has installed the $1,350 external cameras on 11 buses within the past year. Nine additional cameras are ready for deployment among the 422 buses in the entire fleet, 364 of which are on the road each day of the school year.

The two-camera system mounted below the bus's flashing stop sign can capture a vehicle's front and back license plate, time, date, GPS position and speed.

But drivers won't get ticketed if caught on camera -- yet. A bill on the matter before the General Assembly earlier this year was not approved, keeping the measure from passing into law.

While details of incidents are being collected and data -- including a photo and video -- if it's available -- are sent to local law enforcement agencies, police can't administer any fines unless an officer is present to see the violation itself.

The school system plans to return with a tweaked proposal next year that would create a civil citation for Frederick.

Hal Keller, the school system's executive director of fiscal services, said his focus is on improving safety.

"I'm not looking to make money. I'm focused on safety," Keller said.

He said he would be happy with the option of a civil citation, charging violators a fine of around $75 to $125, thus avoiding a court visit.

"We don't feel there is anything more dangerous than cars passing a vehicle (with exiting children)," Keller said.

More than 200 violations have been recorded over the last three fiscal years, said Veronica Lowe, FCPS director of transportation.

She said she believed violators are often talking on their cell phone, multitasking or just not paying attention.

Keller said the cameras are being installed on buses routed to locations where most violations have been tracked.

"The hope is that if this is successful, we will never issue another citation, because there will never be another passing car," Keller said.

He hopes the cameras will have an impact on driver behavior.

Lowe agreed, adding the school system was taking the problem seriously.

"Red means stop. We're serious about it," Lowe said.