South Carolina Ramps Up Tech to Enforce School Bus Law

South Carolina is getting serious about penalizing drivers who pass a stopped school bus, writes Seanna Adcox of Associated Press.  Now, a camera installed on the school bus can be used to prove that a driver has illegally passed a school bus.  Before this, a policeman had to witness such an event in order to ticket the driver at fault.  If an injury was sustained, the charge was raised to a felony.

Because of a lack of consequences, Sen. Thomas Alexander (R-Walhalla) was afraid there would be tragedies.  Tragedy did almost happen when in May a 15-year-old Gaffney High School student was struck by a car as she exited the school bus.  A picture of the accident scene was all it took.  Two weeks later, a bill, sponsored by Alexander, made it to Gov. Nikki Haley’s desk.

“My goal is to have better compliance,” said Alexander, who introduced the measure in May 2013. “It’s not about the tickets but the safety of the children.”

The penalties for passing a school bus have not changed:

• Minimum $500 fee

• Six license points on first misdemeanor conviction

• $2,000 on subsequent conviction

• Higher penalties if injuries occur

The exterior camera systems are not cheap, somewhere around $1,000 a bus, so implementation may take several years. Then there will be the business of deciding which camera to buy, or whether to buy them at all.  These choices will be left to each district.

Iowa City officials have an ordinance, the surveillance ban ordinance in June 2013, and are being told that the newly installed school bus cameras violate it, or, at least the spirit of it, according to B.A. Morelli of  The Gazette.

“Luckily for Iowa City, Chapter 11 of Title 9 of the City Code makes this ill-conceived money-grabbing scheme illegal,” said Aleksey Gurtovoy, one of the founders of Stop Big Brother, which led the successful petition drive to ban red light cameras, speed cameras, and other surveillance tools, “I guess nobody on the school board bothered to check the code.”

On the other side, Iowa City attorney, Eleanor Dilkes, says that “stop- arm violations are not included” in the ban.  She notes that cameras are allowed in public libraries, on school property, and in the downtown business district.  She also noted that the whole idea may not be in the city’s purview because the cameras belong to the school districts.

Opponents say that the cameras are created to create revenue, not to protect people. Gurtovoy,  who led the successful petition campaign to ban red light cameras, speed cameras, and other surveillance tools, offered his opinion.

“The stop-arm cameras do not prevent accidents from happening, they simply take a picture of the car’s license plate after the alleged violation has occurred,” Gurtovoy said.

In another article in The Gazette by B.A. Morelli, it is noted that before the cameras, drivers had to document, from their memory and observation, the time, location, license plate number, and vehicle description of anyone who violates the stop-arm law. “Any time there is video surveillance, it makes evidence stronger for prosecution purposes,” Iowa City Police Sgt. Scott Gaarde said.

In Virginia, a handful of jurisdictions have allowed a private company to install cameras on school buses, says theNewspaper.com.   One of these, Rockingham County, allowed Redflex to install the cameras, in spite of the company’s federal investigations into corruption.  Redflex issued $250 tickets on behalf of the school board, which were called “notices of violation”.  However,  tickets do not follow the rules for regular traffic violations in the state.

The violation notices did not include a court date, even though Redflex told the school board that “it would strictly adhere to legal requirements”.

“Our solution is in compliance to state laws and local ordinances, and we are secure in its ability to be defended against any legal challenges it may face,” Redflex vice president Thomas O’Connor wrote.

Redflex takes a cut of 48-72% of the money collected for violations.  The cut percentage is based on the number of citations given.