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Cameras, wireless communication systems to help catch those who pass school buses

Commissioners award contract for program that begins Aug. 21

July 09, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com
  • This Washington County Public Schools bus has been outfitted with cameras to record vehicles that pass it while it is loading or unloading children when the stop sign on the bus is fully engaged.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

WASHINGTON COUNTY — A new Washington County Public Schools program to install cameras on some school buses to help reduce the number of motorists who illegally pass the stopped vehicles as they pick up or unload students will take effect when the new school year begins Aug. 21.

The five-member Washington County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved awarding a five-year contract to American Traffic Solutions of Tempe, Ariz., to provide “stop-arm” enforcement cameras and integrated secure wireless communication systems on 20 school buses to initiate the program.

“When the stop arm is activated and the red lights are flashing, then the camera will activate as well,” county Sheriff Douglas W. Mullendore said, noting that more cameras could be added to the county’s bus fleet in the future.

Civil citations of $125 will be issued to motorists caught passing school buses, with a percentage of the fines paid through the program going to the county for public safety purposes, county Purchasing Director Karen Luther told the commissioners.

Mullendore said there will be no points associated with tickets generated by the cameras. The sheriff’s office will be able to directly monitor the system and issue citations for passing buses carrying school students, regardless of whether they are owned by the county or a contractor, he said.

The cameras, which will capture still photos as well as video, were tested in a pilot program earlier this year, Mullendore said.

“From the pilot program, we were able to see the vehicle prior to passing the bus, and as it passed the bus, clearly able to identify the tags off the vehicle,” he said.

Mullendore said the pilot program was an “eye-opening experience.”

“There were quite a few violations,” he said.

For the past three years, the county school system has participated in a national one-day survey, which serves as a measuring rod for the number of stop-arm violators on any given day, WCPS Transportation Director Barbara Scotto said.

On Feb. 10, 126 county school bus drivers noted 88 violations of the law, according to The Herald-Mail’s archives.

“It is scary,” Scotto said. “It’s a huge safety issue when you talk about students that are potentially crossing the road to get onto a school bus, and you have someone who is going to run through those lights.”

Maugans Avenue has been one trouble spot identified in the past, according to Mullendore, who said people must stop in both directions due to the absence of a physical divider between opposing lanes of travel.

Signs have been posted on both ends of Maugans Avenue, but people are still passing stopped school buses, Mullendore said.

“We’re just trying to prevent our kids from getting hit as they exit from or enter onto the school buses,” he said.

The county will receive 25 percent of revenues from tickets paid through the first year of operation, 40 percent in the second year and 50 percent during the third through fifth years, Mullendore said.

Luther said the contract with American Traffic Solutions is for “turnkey services,” with no startup contributions required by the county. The contract includes an optional five-year renewal upon completion of the first term.

With the commissioners’ approval, Washington County becomes the second jurisdiction in Maryland to institute a camera stop-arm enforcement program, joining Frederick County, Scotto said.

Mullendore said several other localities are in the process of starting their own programs, including Charles and Montgomery counties.

Scotto said the program not only marks a structured system for catching and ticketing violators, but also as a means to launch a “huge PR campaign” to help educate motorists and the general public about the law.

At one location during the pilot program, flagmen at a construction site were seen on camera waving drivers around a stopped bus, illustrating the need for more education, Luther told the commissioners.

“We are very, very fortunate that (school bus) drivers educate their kids, and they wait and signal them when it’s safe to cross,” Scotto said. “But there are some close calls.”

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