Five cameras triggered to catch drivers who pass school buses at a stop went into action Thursday throughout Montgomery County.
Twenty more cameras will eventually be installed on buses throughout the county, almost two years after the Montgomery County Council passed legislation aimed at stopping the dangerous maneuver. All vehicles photographed passing a bus with its stop arm extended will be reviewed by Montgomery County Police’s Automated Traffic Enforcement Unit.
Citations with a $125 fine will be mailed to the registered owner. No points will be issued with the program.
MCPS has 1,296 buses that transports more than 100,000 of its roughly 150,000 students each day. There are 1,100 bus routes with more than 40,000 bus stops.
This week, the first five cameras will be spread on buses at the county’s five MCPS bus depots, MCPS Director of Transportation Todd Watkins said.
Watkins and Police Capt. Tom Didone, who heads the department’s Traffic Division, said the buses will cover major arterial routes throughout the county just by the nature of their pick-up schedules. Most buses do pick-ups and drop-offs four times a day, with varying elementary, middle and high school assignments.
The cameras will be rotated to trouble spots and Didone said the county could install camera covers with no working cameras to further deter passing drivers.
The buses also include cameras near the front of the bus below the driver’s side window to allow the driver to see what’s going on to his or her left. Those have been in operation already this school year.
Contractual issues held up the installation of the cameras, causing some frustration on the Council. But it’s ready to go now and county safety officials hopes it means a big decline in drivers passing stopped buses.
At a school transportation safety event with federal officials in August, MCPS Director of Transportation Todd Watkins spoke about the importance of stopping behind buses that have stop arms out and lights flashing. Anecdotal evidence offered by county officials suggests it’s more common than you might think.
In October, Councilmember Craig Rice (D-Upcounty) said his daughter was nearly victim to a driver passing a stopped school bus, an incident he witnessed. MCP launched a media campaign on Thursday to make people aware of the safety issue and new cameras.
In August, the Maryland State Department of Education released a one-day survey that showed 1,078 drivers in Montgomery County ignored the stop arms on school buses.