School districts across the country are outfitting their buses with new technology to protect students and drivers — and to help identify and ticket offenders.
As part of National School Bus Safety Week, October 20-24, schools in North Carolina are thinking of how to keep children safe while riding the bus to and from school.
According to the Department of Transportation, 23 million children ride school buses each day across the nation. And the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Information Services reports drivers illegally pass those busses 70,000 times each day, causing police across the country to consider new technology to aid in catching the drivers.
Video cameras are being installed in school buses to allow what is going on both inside and outside the bus to be recorded and viewed later on, allowing the footage to play an important role on any investigations.
School districts in Missouri have also put the cameras to use, firing an Ocean Springs bus driver for inappropriately touching a young child last week, and again when an SUV collided with a Biloxi school bus.
"We're able to see where the bus was and the proximity of an intersection when it was struck. When we have any claims from students who are hurt, we'll look at where they were sitting. We can identify who they are and possible sustained injuries they could have incurred," said Biloxi Schools Transportation Director Sam Bailey.
Buses in the state are outfitted with two cameras that record everything the bus driver does, including braking, speed, GPS location, and activation of warning signals. The cameras come complete with night vision, and continue recording even after the buses are shut off.
In Maryland, 825 citations were issued this year to drivers who illegally passed a bus that was stopped to pick up or drop off children, according to data collected from the cameras. Many are asking for an increase to the $125 fine, as the act puts children in harm's way.
"It's good news that the cameras are working, but it's really bad news that we have this many violations," said Capt. Thomas Didone, director of the Montgomery police's traffic division, who appeared before a joint council committee this week. He called the volume "unacceptable."
The bus safety program began in January in an effort to put a stop illegal, dangerous passing. Maryland state law says drivers in both directions must stop for a stopped school bus that has flashing lights and arms extended, except when they are on the opposite side of a divided road that has a median or other barrier.
According to Montgomery police, the county has issued far more citations than any other county in the state that currently participates in the program. Frederick county has only issued 18 citations since the program began in that county in 2012.
A one-day survey in North Carolina found that 3,153 vehicles illegally passed stopped school buses in the state, over twice as many as the number found in 2000. Attorney General Roy Cooper is asking for the state to equip all school buses with cameras that would take a photograph of the license plate of any offenders. He is suggesting that any money paid by violators be given to the public school system, allowing the program to pay for itself.
Similar laws are already in place in several other states, including Georgia, Maryland and Virginia.
"Parents count on school buses to get their kids to school and home again safely," Cooper said. "We need to look at adding this technology to make school bus rides safer for children."