School bus cameras would be used only to catch violators, sheriff says

November 15, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE |

HAGERSTOWN — If Washington County officials decide to put cameras on the outside of some school buses to catch drivers who illegally pass the buses, only the captured images of those violations would be kept, Sheriff Doug Mullendore assured school board officials Tuesday night.

A vendor would watch the camera footage in real time, marking the clip needed and almost immediately destroying the rest of the footage, Mullendore told Washington County Board of Education members during a meeting at the central office off Commonwealth Avenue in Hagerstown.

School board members Donna Brightman and Justin Hartings had asked what happened to footage unrelated to violations in which motorists illegally pass school buses.

Mullendore said state lawmakers passed enabling legislation last spring that would allow police, with the support of the Washington County Board of Commissioners and school board, to put cameras on the exterior of school buses.

The cameras are meant to catch drivers who don’t stop for school buses that have flashing lights and activated stop arms. Such safety devices are used to alert drivers to stop as buses stop to pick up or drop off schoolchildren.

Mullendore said the sheriff’s office has issued more than 70 such violations so far this school year after deputies observed the violations. Of those 70, 56 were violations on Maugans Avenue, he said after his presentation to the school board.

Maugans Avenue has been a problem area for such violations. On the five-lane section of the road — which includes a center turn lane and has no physical barrier between opposing lanes — drivers in both directions must stop for school buses with flashing lights and activated stop arms.

The state law needs to be clarified during the upcoming General Assembly session to note that it includes contracted school buses and not just those owned by the school system, Mullendore said.

The school system would not have to pay for the camera system and monitoring because costs would be covered by fines assessed through civil citations to violators, Mullendore said.

The maximum civil penalty is $250, Mullendore said. If a police officer observes such a violation, the traffic citation penalty is $570 and two points assessed against the violator’s driver’s license.

Revenue generated by fines would go to cover the cost of the system and pay for a crime prevention specialist who reviews cases, he said. Any leftover funds must be spent on public safety projects in the county, he said.

The school board did not make any decisions whether to support the camera program. The county would need to pass a law and hold a public hearing before the program could be activated, Mullendore said.

Mullendore said he would want to initiate a pilot program involving a few buses to evaluate different vendors. During the pilot program, no citations would be issued to violators, he said.

If fully implemented, Mullendore said he expected to have cameras on about a dozen buses because not every bus route has problems with vehicles not stopping.

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