Bus cameras catch every move during pilot program

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 23, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — Transportation supervisor Tim Beck said the high resolution camera systems installed on two of the Rowan-Salisbury School System’s yellow buses can pick up the color and tag number of passing cars as well as the facial expressions of the driver.
“We’d love to have one on every bus,” he said Thursday.
The school system is one of five districts throughout the state participating in a pilot program that tests bus stop arm video camera systems.
Seven buses have been equipped with the technology, which costs about $4,000 and is being funded through the Governor’s Highway Safety Program. A recording system along with three interior cameras and up to four exterior cameras was installed on the buses last fall.
Derek Graham, section chief of transportation services for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, said at least 10 students, including one from Rowan County, have been killed by drivers who failed to halt for stopped schools buses since 1998.
“Year after year, day after day, over 2,000 times a day, a motorist passes a stopped school bus in North Carolina,” he said. “My question is, if we all have this instinct when we’re driving and a soccer ball rolls out in the road to slam on brakes because we know there could be kids around, why in the world when we see a school bus with flashing lights and a stop sign don’t we have the same instinct?”
Graham said the pilot program is helping prosecute drivers who break the law, and it’s raising awareness about the dangers of passing a stopped bus that is either picking up or dropping off students.
“It’s not so important to have a camera on every bus as the perception that there could be a camera on every bus,” he said. “But people don’t need to be cautious because they think there might be a camera on the bus, people need to be cautious because we’re talking about kids’ lives, and that’s real.”
• • •
Judy Burris, the district’s transportation director, said since the camera systems were installed, 10 drivers have been issued citations for passing a stopped school bus in Rowan County.
Four of them have pleaded guilty and one was found guilty. The other five have pending court dates.
“That is a great record, and it does show that the system is working,” she said.
Brandy Cook, the Rowan County district attorney, said the technology has been a good tool for her office.
“The camera systems that were installed on the school buses in Rowan County are extremely effective in capturing video evidence of these violations,” she said. “The quality of the video, which is outstanding, and the still photographs have provided additional evidence for our office to utilize in the prosecution of these types of cases.”
Salisbury Police officer Daniel Fleming said the cameras have streamlined the reporting of stop arm violations.
In the past, a bus driver would file a report through the school system, which would then send the report to law enforcement.
“That relied solely on the school bus driver as a witness,” he said.
The cameras record continuously while buses are on their routes, capturing speed and braking as well as deployment of amber warning lights and the stop arm.
“This is a real good tool for us,” Fleming said. “Hopefully it will make people aware that cameras are on the buses and maybe prevent some of these offenses from taking place in the future.”
• • •
Burris said the school system has 188 buses on the road every day, transporting 10,500 students to and from schools.
“We are hoping to get the word out that it’s critical to stop when you see a yellow bus stopped,” she said.
Reducing the number of stop arm violations is a goal Burris said her staff is working hard to meet.
“If we catch violators, that’s great, but what we’re trying to do is lessen those violations,” she said. “The safety of our students is the most important thing.”
Graham said the primary reason for the progress behind the district’s pilot program is the dedication of those involved.
“These folks have really been aggressive in making sure this was going to be successful,” he said. “We’re appreciative of the vigilance of the school system and the community here in Rowan-Salisbury for making this program truly a weapon against this crime.”

Know the law

When a school bus stops for passengers, all traffic from both directions must stop in the following situations:
• A two-lane roadway
• A two-lane roadway with a center turning lane
• A four-lane roadway without a median separation
When a school bus stops for passengers, only traffic following the bus must stop in the following situations:
• Divided highway of four lanes or more with a median separation
• Roadway of four lanes or more with a center turning lane

Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
Twitter: twitter.com/posteducation
Facebook: facebook.com/Sarah.SalisburyPost