Monday, January 17, 2011

School buses add cameras to catch drivers endangering kids

School districts nationwide are trying out video cameras as a way to deter drivers from passing buses that are loading or unloading children.

Districts in Dallas County, Texas, Montgomery and Frederick counties in Maryland and Cobb County, Ga., are among the latest to test the cameras on some school buses in their fleets.

Michael Warner, associate director of fleet maintenance for the Cobb County School District, says an incident there in December 2009 prompted them to install cameras on two of their buses last spring.

“A bus was stopped, unloading students, and a car behind the bus stopped and a second car behind that car swerved, went around the right side of the bus and ran over a kindergarten girl and killed her,” Warner says.

Warner says the stop-arm cameras were added to a digital video system already on the buses. “The digital video system runs between $1,500 and $1,800, and we pay an extra $200 for the stop-arm camera,” he says.

Warner says the school district works with the local police department concerning violators, and the police have conducted stings where violators have been caught.

“A couple of months ago, they were able to catch five violators that they pulled over,” Warner says.

Montgomery County’s cameras were installed last summer. Lesli Maxwell, spokeswoman for Montgomery County Public Schools, says they are on 96 of about 1,200 buses.

“It’s very much a pilot program at this point,” she says. The cost, she says, is $500 per bus to install the equipment.

Although the cameras have captured video of drivers bypassing a stopped bus, Maxwell says no Maryland law allows that video footage to be used for ticketing drivers.

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