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Washington County authorizes school bus cameras

Those caught passing illegally will be issued civil citations and charged $250 fines

April 10, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com

Select school buses in the county will soon be equipped with cameras to catch drivers who pass illegally, Sheriff Douglas W. Mullendore said Tuesday after the Washington County Board of Commissioners approved an ordinance authorizing their use.

There were no comments about the proposal at a public hearing Tuesday morning. Afterward, the five commissioners voted unanimously to authorize the cameras.

“Safety is paramount, and I think this will add safety for our kids,” Commissioner Jeffrey A. Cline said.

The next step will be to award a contract to a company that will install and monitor the cameras in exchange for a portion of the fines, Mullendore said.

He said he hoped to get a pilot program under way before the end of this school year.

For the first 30 to 60 days, those caught illegally passing by the cameras will be issued warnings, Mullendore said.

After that, those caught will be issued civil citations and charged $250 fines. The citation will not add points to a driver’s Motor Vehicle Administration driving record.

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Meanwhile, illegal passing violations observed by a police officer will continue to carry a $570 fine and add two points to the violator’s driving record, Mullendore said.

It is illegal to pass a school bus while its stop arm is out and lights are flashing. Unless there is a physical median or concrete barrier, traffic headed in the opposite direction from the bus also must stop, he said.

Currently, the sheriff’s office issues about 80 citations per school year to drivers illegally passing buses, Mullendore said. He estimates the actual number of violations is in the 250 to 300 range per school year.

Vehicles passing stopped buses have sometimes resulted in crashes, including an incident years ago in which a child was killed on Jefferson Boulevard after a vehicle passed a bus, Mullendore said.

“This program will be very beneficial in reducing the number of violations and reducing the risk to our children of being struck by a vehicle,” he said.

To select a company to provide the cameras, the county will either put the contract out to bid or “piggyback” it by using the company that wins a contract in Frederick County under its bid process, Mullendore said.

Mullendore said the cameras would be placed on about 20 to 25 buses, selected based on their history of problems with illegal passing.

The cameras will not be used to monitor other traffic violations, Mullendore said. The footage might be used as evidence if it happened to capture a criminal act, but the scope of the cameras will be limited, he said.

“It would have to be in really close proximity to the bus for that to really happen,” he said.

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