ATHENS, Ga. -- Days are numbered for motorists who blatantly disregard the flashing red lights and stop arms of school buses as they load and unload children.
Several Clarke County School Districts buses this week were fitted with camera systems that will provide visual evidence of violations. The systems will electronically send videos of violations and still images of tag numbers to the Athens-Clarke County Police Department so they can mail out citations.
The camera system is similar to that which snares red light violators at two Athens intersections.
“Student safety is our top priority, and we believe this will help drivers join us in ensuring the safety of all of our community’s children,” Schools Superintendent Philip Lanoue said.
The school bus stop-arm system utilizes a series of six camera mounted on the bus to catch violators from several 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.
People drive past stopped school buses every day, but bus driver’s are too busy to be able to get the tag of each vehicle that ignores the flashing lights and stop arm, said Carlton Allen, director of Pupil Transportation for the Georgia Department of Education.
“The drivers are supposed to be focusing on the loading and unloading of students,” he said.
As the officer who oversees the automatic red light enforcement system, Carter said that there has been a very high conviction rate for motorists who are photographed driving through a red traffic light.
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.
In Georgia, the penalty is a $300 fine for the first stop-arm violation. That amount increases to $750 for a second violation, and a third violation within a five-year period will result in a $1,000 fine.
Though Carter, a former accident investigator, could not remember the last time a student has been killed or seriously injured at a bus stop in Athens, Georgia led the nation in such fatalities from 2010-2012.
Since 1995, 25 Georgia students were killed trying to get on or off a school bus and two students were killed on the bus, according to a study by the Kansas State Department of Education.
Last year, just one of the nine children killed at school bus stops nationally was in Georgia, dropping the state’s ranking to third behind North Carolina and Texas, according to Allen.
He thinks that 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.
ATS will take first looks at videos and photographs to weed out non-violations, and then transmit them to the police department where they will undergo further review to confirm that a motorist violated the law.
“This new technology will, no doubt, enhance the safety of our highways by protecting all of us, most importantly our ... children,” Athens-Clarke County Police Chief Jack Lumpkin said.