UPDATE: Cobb did vote to approve a contract for a private firm to track drivers who go around stopped school buses via cameras and hit them with steep fines.
I hope the Cobb school board votes tonight to become one of the first and largest Georgia districts to allow an a private company to issue $300 citations to motorists they film driving around stopped school buses.
I am stunned how often I see Georgia drivers darting around stopped buses. I am also stunned how often drivers fly through crosswalks with schoolchildren in them. Visit any metro school and prepare to be outraged by the hordes of drivers barreling through crosswalks and around buses unloading children.
Drivers do not see it as their responsibility to watch for children exiting buses, despite laws requiring they do so.
Nor do Atlanta drivers respect the slower speeds posted in school zones. In a 41-day test run of a surveillance camera posted in front of Morningside Elementary in Atlanta a few years ago, 917 vehicles per day were recorded traveling more than 10 mph above the speed limit.
If cameras and stiff fines will make drivers think twice about children boarding and exiting school buses, I am all for them. I hope the Cobb board will agree tonight.
According to the AJC:
The company, American Traffic Solutions, will use images from more than 100 cameras the school system will install o n Cobb school buses to catch the impatient or distracted drivers. After years of relying on flashing lights, a bus arm with a stop sign attached to it and bus driver testimony to issue warnings, several local districts, including Fulton and Fayette counties, also are turning to cameras and hefty fines to deter drivers.
If passed, the Cobb contract will allow American Traffic Solutions to keep up to 75 percent of generated revenue from the citations issued; the company will absorb the cost of the cameras. Cobb police and the school system will split the rest of the generated revenue for administrative costs.
“I watched too many cars pass the school bus while my children got on the bus, ” said Sheri Lewis, a Cobb County parent who helped start Operation Stop Arm, a Cobb County advocacy group. “When you watch that happen, it’s very alarming and scary to think your children are in the street while cars are passing the bus.”
Operation Stop Arm began in 2009 when an elderly woman swerved around a school bus onto a curb and struck and killed a kindergartner who had just exited the bus. “Children are dying all over the nation, ” Lewis said.
If a police officer catches a driver passing a stopped bus, the officer can issue up to a $1,000 moving violation misdemeanor and dock 6 points off the person’s license — 15 points within 24 months can get a driver’s license suspended. The company-issued citations won’t carry points or be reported to the driver’s insurer.
A Cobb pilot program last year, using cameras installed on 102 of the 1,188 buses, caught 871 violators of the law. But because of limits in the law, only warnings were issued that carried no weight. An amendment to the law last year allowed outside vendors to issue citations.
American Traffic Solutions will send the video and an image to the Cobb County Police Department, which will confirm whether it’s a violation. Then, the company will send the vehicle owner a citation along with the picture in the mail. The Cobb County Police Department can force violators to pay up.
Why motorists won’t wait the extra few minutes for a bus to drop off or pick up students confounds Cobb police spokesman Sgt. Dana Pierce, who has stopped several motorists over the years and heard a plethora of excuses.
“Drivers are so involved in talking on the phone or distracted with their stereo or not paying attention to what’s happening in front of them, ” Pierce said.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog