ATHENS, Ga. -- Some motorists who recently ignored school bus stop signals in Athens are beginning to receive hefty fines in the mail.
In its first full week of operation, a new camera system now used on several Clarke County School District buses captured images of 17 violators, said Athens-Clarke County police Sgt. James Carter, who administers the system.
Violators face a $300 fine for their first violation, $750 for a second offense and $1,000 for a third.
“We’re hoping to change driver behavior by having them pay the consequences for their violations,” Carter said.
The violations were captured by cameras activated when a school bus arm with a stop sign and flashing red lights swing out as the bus picks up or discharges students. Close-up images record the tags of violating vehicles.
The system utilizes a series of six cameras mounted on the bus to catch violators from multiple angles. When the stop arm is deployed, the cameras detect vehicles illegally passing in either direction and captures video of the violation and still images of a vehicle‘s license plate.
Under state law, drivers in all lanes must stop except if they are on the other side of a median with a physical barrier such as grass or concrete barricade.
Motorists on multi-lane highways with a center turn lane must stop for school buses.
Since police officers cannot be at all bus stops, the camera system serves as a force multiplier.
In the same first week of the camera system’s operation, officers wrote seven citations for stop-arm violations that they observed, according to Carter.
Images of vehicular traffic when stop arms are deployed are initially reviewed by American Traffic Solutions, the company that installed and operates the camera system. After weeding out nonviolations, the company transmits images to the police department where they undergo further review to confirm that a motorist violated the law.
Citations are then mailed to the person to whom tags on violating vehicles are registered.
People drive past stopped school buses every day, but bus driver’s are too busy to be able to get the tag of each motorist who ignores the flashing lights and stop arm, said Carlton Allen, director of Pupil Transportation for the Georgia Department of Education.
Allen thinks bus cameras are helping motorists become more aware of the law, as Athens-Clarke joins six other counties that have started using camera systems since the Georgia Legislature approved their use to help enforce school bus stop-arm laws.
Allen’s department monitored other school systems using the cameras by conducting annual surveys of bus drivers. There’s been a significant decrease in stop-arm violations in those systems, he said.
“The drivers are supposed to be focusing on the loading and unloading of students,” he said.
As the officer who also oversees the automatic traffic light enforcement system, Carter said that there has been a very high conviction rate for motorists photographed driving through red signals.
He expects the same will happen with the school bus-arm cameras. The number of violations are expected to decrease as people become aware that they are being photographed, Carter said.
About a half-dozen school buses in Athens have cameras, and they have routes on which bus drivers most frequently observe violations, according to Carter.
Those routes include Barnett Shoals, Gaines School and Commerce roads, and Milledge Avenue, the officer said.
The county plans to purchase additional cameras in the future, and Carter said that in the meantime the cameras currently in use can be swapped out to other buses when violations on certain routes decrease.