Bus cameras a good idea, with caveats

January 23, 2012

There can be no excuse for driving past the red flashing lights of a stopped school bus. The law is universally known, and the reason for the law is universally understood. And the potential consequences of failing to stop are clearly understood as well.

Why anyone would risk such tragedy is hard to fathom, but apparently people still do. So Washington County Sheriff Douglas Mullendore has successfully petitioned the Washington County Board of Commissioners to allow cameras on school buses in hopes of encouraging greater compliance with the law.

The cameras would be mounted on 20 buses to start, on routes that have had the most problems with law-breakers. Offenders will be mailed tickets that will cost them as much as $250.

We support the action of the sheriff and commissioners, with some caveats.

We continue to have serious reservations about the growing trend nationwide of for-profit traffic-law enforcement. Under these programs, a private company installs the cameras for free, then reaps a large chunk of the revenue generated by tickets.

So, it is in the interest of a private business to catch as many violators as possible, leaving the accused with no opportunity to face his accuser. There’s something about this model that stands such principles as presumption of innocence and burden of proof on their heads.

Where profit is involved, principle too easily flies out the window. We prefer that law enforcement remain in the hands of professional police agencies, rather than in the hands of some corporate accounting department.

Nevertheless, the issue of child safety is too serious to warrant philosophical quibbling. If cameras are what it takes to protect students, then by all means, enlist the help of cameras.

But beyond the legal angle, we would ask anyone who might be tempted to run the red lights of a school bus to consider what it must be like to get the word that your child has been hit by a passing motorist.

What appointment is so crucial that this becomes an acceptable risk?

Almost by definition, those who are in enough of a hurry to run the red lights are in enough of a hurry to miss seeing a child scamper from a hidden driveway. 

Inconsiderate acts lead to the passage of imperfect law, as we believe is the case with bus cameras. But inconsiderate acts also can lead to situations that are infinitely more terrifying.

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