Police Chief Thomas Manger says 25 Montgomery County school buses will be outfitted in January with cameras to catch drivers who illegally pass buses picking up or dropping off students.
In August, Councilmember Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring) said the county hasn’t moved fast enough to install the safety cameras on the stop arms of school buses. The County Council enacted the law allowing for the cameras in March 2012 with the expectation the cameras would be installed in six to 18 months, according to a County Council staff report.
Contractual issues held that process up, something Ervin said she didn’t know until an inquiry from a Washington Post reporter.
“It took longer than we would have hoped. It was certainly not intentional,” Manger told the Council’s Education and Public Safety Committees on Thursday. “We were hoping to bridge our contract with another local jurisdiction to avoid a lengthy RFP process. I guess if we had just put the RFP out day one, we probably would have been a little bit ahead of the game.”
Frederick County has an active school bus camera program, but Manger said the county did not like their contract for the program. Frederick County has issued a total of four violations since it began its program in September 2012.
Manger and an MCPS transportation official said the goal of the program was not to generate revenue, but to change behavior. A violation will cost $125. County revenue would come only from violations that don’t go to court, an amount that Council staff said was hard to predict.
Police say they don’t yet need additional staffing to manage and operate the program.
On Jan. 3, the first day back to school after winter break, there will be 25 cameras on buses and wiring for an additional 75 school buses so that cameras can be moved among high priority routes.
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.
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.
“When you see a stopped school bus on the road, no matter how late you are, no matter how much of a hurry you’re in, stop,” Watkins said. “Because every time somebody makes a decision to pass a stopped school bus, it’s a potentially life-changing tragedy for some student and their family.”
At the Committee hearing on Thursday, Councilmember Craig Rice (D-Upcounty) said his daughter was nearly victim to a driver passing a stopped school bus, an incident he witnessed. MCP will launch a media campaign to make people aware of the safety issue and new cameras.