School Bus Cameras Detect Bad Motorist Behavior
A few years ago as one of my district’s school buses stopped to pick up kids at a children’s residential center when a car swerved around the bus into the center’s parking lot. It was the director of the center. The bus driver called the transportation director, who called the police. The director’s response? “I was in a hurry.”
At least in this case no one was injured, but no job is worth risking the life of a child.
Now in an attempt to cut down on such violations, some school districts are equipping their buses with cameras not only inside the bus to detect student misbehavior, but also outside the bus to identify motorist misbehavior. Like red light cameras, school bus mounted cameras snap pictures of motorists who fail to stop for the bus when its red lights are flashing. The pictures are then transmitted to the police, who issue citations. Violations tend to be expensive, ranging in some areas from $300 to $1000.
All of this is just fine with me, with the exception of one little wrinkle: The cameras are installed by a company called American Traffic Solutions, and the company receives 75% of the revenue generated from these traffic citations. The financial results have been, unfortunately, pretty lucrative for all concerned. In Cobb County, Georgia, for example, from last November through January, citations resulted in about $133,000 in revenue. The company got about $100,00 of that money, the rest going to the county and school district.
So far the response from motorists has been muted compared with the negative response many have to red light cameras. The set-up is the same, with the camera companies sharing in the revenue generated from citations (unless prohibited locally by law). According to industry data, the use of red-light cameras has burgeoned over the past few years from 155 contracts in 2005 to nearly 700 last year. Motorists complain that camera companies have calibrated traffic lights to shorten the yellow in order to catch more motorists; the companies retort that the length of the lights is not their responsibility.
John Bowman, of the National Motorists Association, which opposes traffic cameras, believes that people aren’t complaining about school bus cameras because “everyone wants children to be safe.” Still, he says, instead of cameras, schools should be “looking at the training and support we give out school bus drivers.”
School bus drivers are licensed and well trained, and in many states are required to have additional training throughout the school year. But no school bus driver, however well trained, can keep a thoughtless motorist from swerving around a stopped school bus. Frankly, I think sharing the citation fines with the company that puts the cameras on the bus or on the red light can encourage unscrupulous behavior on the part of the company, but that behavior pales in comparison to the risk of carelessly injuring a child getting on or off a school bus.