Thursday, February 17, 2011

Massachusetts Pending Legislation for School Bus Stop Arm Ticketing Cameras

SEEKONK - If pending legislation is approved during this session Massachusetts will allow cameras to be installed on school buses. The Seekonk School Committee is now considering being one of the first districts to get involved in a pilot program.

At their meeting last Monday night, the committee heard from Daniel Angeli of SmartBus Live. The company installs cameras on buses to take photographs of drivers who pass buses illegally. When a school bus comes to a stop to pick up or drop off children it is illegal to pass it.

“We’ve been in Rhode Island for just over two years since the law was enacted in July of 2008 allowing for live digital video to be used on school buses for the purpose of traffic management. In Massachusetts we have similar legislation pending. Senator [James E.] Timilty is one of the co-sponsors of the bill,” he said. (Sen. Timilty did not return a call for comment.)

To support passage of that legislation, SmartBus Live is trying to gather data locally. Their desire is to place an external camera system on a Seekonk school bus at no charge to the district to monitor the amount of drivers who pass the bus illegally while children are getting on or off the school bus.

“Some of the primary challenges, not only here in Massachusetts but nationwide, is the fact that motorists are illegally passing school buses. This creates a severe traffic safety issue for children getting on and off the bus,” Mr. Angeli said.

He cited a Florida study that said found, on average, “every school bus is illegally passed once a day. In Massachusetts that would be over 9,000 times a day that somebody illegally passes a school bus.”

How it works, what it costs

Mr. Angeli said the external camera system offers a 180 degree panoramic view of up to four lanes of traffic. At the SmartBus Live command center, employees monitor the video feed every time a school bus stops. If they see someone illegally passing the bus, that bus is flagged and the information is processed to ticket the individual.

SmartBus Live does not charge the district for any aspect of the service. They make their money through the issuing of tickets.

They also offer a service to monitor the interior of school buses, “for the purposes of bullying and vandalism issues that occur on a school bus on a daily basis,” Mr. Angeli said.

Thinking about it

The committee was down two members during last Monday night’s presentation. With Fran Creamer and Mitchell Vieira absent, the remaining three committee members agreed that the proposal was too important to decide without the full board. After a few questions about cost and process, the three members agreed to table the conversation until a March 7 work session that will be held immediately before their regular meeting. If they agree to be part of the pilot program, the camera system could be installed on a bus with enough time to gather data to support the proposed legislation.

“It’s a good program in my view,” said school committee member Bill Barker.