Adam Tuss, wtop.com
ROCKVILLE, Md. – With yellow lights flashing, a school bus in Montgomery County comes to a stop.
The exterior stop signs with flashing red lights on the bus extend out.
But some cars keep passing by the bus — even as school kids cross the street.
Video from the Montgomery County Public School system, obtained by WTOP, shows this scene play out over and over again.
“It is very blatant, and the only thing I can figure is people don’t consider that each time someone passes (the bus) it could be a tragedy for a child,” Todd Watkins, director of transportation for Montgomery County Public Schools, tells WTOP.
He calls the incidents a “daily occurrence.”
Legislation has been passed in Maryland that allows for automated cameras to be placed on the outside of school buses. Those cameras snap pictures of the license plates of vehicles that pass by school bus stop signs, and the driver can be sent a ticket in the mail. The automated ticketing process works the same way as red-light and speed cameras.
The state bill requires individual counties to approve the bill on their own to set up the program. A majority of Montgomery County councilmembers have already expressed support for the system, and it is expected to be fully approved in the coming weeks.
“There is, unfortunately, way too much evidence that that stop sign is ignored,” Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner said recently.
In a one-day survey last year, where data was reported by bus operators, Watkins says Montgomery County tallied 1,600 school bus stop sign violations.
However, Watkins says that number could be a bit high.
The county has never had a fatality with a child crossing the street getting on or off a bus.
“There are many states around the country who either have passed similar legislation, or are looking at it, whose bill has a name attached to it,” Watkins says. “We want to solve this problem before we have a name to attach to this bill.”
State law allows the fine for passing a school bus stop sign to go up to $250. But ultimately, County Executive Ike Leggett will have to decide how much the fines should be once the program is put in place.
Watkins insists the program is all about safety — even claiming that it will end up costing the county money.
“We really anticipate the implementation of this to cost us more than the fines ever bring in.”
Any money that is generated will go back to help pay for the program.
Right now, the county is using about 200 regular, low-tech cameras on its fleet of 1,264 buses to capture data. But eventually, the cameras will become much more sophisticated. High-tech cameras costing between $5,000 and $8,000 will be able to snap pictures of infractions and send the clips to a processing facility — much the same way red-light and speed cameras work.
Frederick County also is moving ahead with a similar program.
Watkins says the devices will be “phased in” and will be able to be switched around from bus to bus.
(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)