School buses in Anne Arundel Co. get cameras to record illegal passing

Hundreds of school buses in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, are being outfitted with high-tech cameras that can automatically detect cars that illegally pass stopped buses — and snap pictures of their license plates.

County officials Wednesday announced the effort to crack down on drivers who fail to stop for school buses. It’s part of a partnership involving the school system, the Police Department and BusPatrol, the company that supplies the cameras.

“We have all seen what happens when folks are in a hurry to get to work or hurry to get somewhere: That school bus stops and the lights start flashing and people just don’t want to wait, and they go on by,” County Executive Steuart Pittman said during Wednesday’s news conference.

“And usually they get away with it, because there’s not an officer there to do anything about it and there’s nobody there taking pictures.”

The new cameras will automatically snap pictures of the license plates of drivers who pass stopped buses. The video footage will be given to the Anne Arundel County Police Department to verify before a $250 civil fine is mailed to the vehicle owner.

Police will also use the data to examine trends about where drivers are most frequently passing school buses, and at what times of the day and year, so that police officers can be deployed to monitor specific high-risk areas.

“Every time a motorist illegally passes a stopped school bus, that driver places an innocent child’s life at risk,” said Police Chief Amal Awad. “There’s nothing more important to us than protecting the safety of our children.”

School officials said the cameras would be outfitted on the school system’s entire fleet of 750 buses — including those owned by contractors — by the start of the school year Aug. 29.

There will be about a monthlong grace period, during which there will be a PR campaign to educate drivers. Citations will be mailed to violators starting Oct. 1.

The camera program is being funded with revenue netted from violators.

“Our goal is not to raise money,” Pittman said. “Our goal is to improve behavior and make our kids safer and our roads safer.”

In addition to the stop-arm cameras, the buses are being outfitted with 360-degree safety cameras to provide a complete view of activity inside and outside the bus. They will also be outfitted with GPS tracking, which eventually will allow students and parents to track their buses in real time.

Rich Hetherington, of BusPatrol, said the company’s cameras are already installed on school buses in Carroll, Montgomery, Prince George’s and Queen Anne’s counties.

“The thing that was most horrifying to me when I started in doing this … was the number of close calls” involving kids exiting school buses and drivers who fail to stop, he said Wednesday.

In some communities, camera programs have helped cut violations by up to 30%, the company said.

According to Maryland law, drivers approaching a stopped school bus — with its red lights flashing — from either direction must stop at least 20 feet away and may not proceed until the flashing lights are deactivated.

Drivers who are pulled over by police officers for failing to stop for a school bus face stiffer penalties than those caught under the camera program: a $525 fine and three points on their driver’s license.

The camera program results in civil fines and no points on a license, officials said. The fine can be contested in court, as with any other citation.

Also at Wednesday’s press conference, Superintendent Mark Bedell, who just joined the school system in July, said the school system still needs to fill 73 bus driver vacancies.

Last fall, the school system was beset by transportation challenges, including a bus driver shortage and a strike by contracted bus drivers.

“We do anticipate that at the beginning of this school year, we will start off with some route vacancies,” Bedell said, adding that the school system is working on making routes more efficient.

“The shortage is not just an Anne Arundel thing,” Bedell. “It’s in every surrounding school district here. It was the same case in the school district that I came from. I was driving students last year as a superintendent in Kansas City. It is a national issue that we’re dealing with.”

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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