In the long-running battle against the illegal passing of school buses, one of the more recent developments is the use of cameras to catch violators.
These types of surveillance systems — which are typically mounted on the outside of the bus near the stop arm — have been around for several years now, but some states haven’t approved their use. However, this year there has been a wave of legislation in support of exterior school bus cameras.
In Connecticut, a law change that went into effect in July lets video surveillance footage be used against motorists who illegally pass stopped school buses.
The amended law requires that warning signs are posted on buses equipped with surveillance systems to catch the stop-arm violations. An image that clearly shows the license plate number of a passing vehicle is considered sufficient proof of the identity of the vehicle.
In Virginia, legislation that became effective in July authorizes localities to allow local school divisions to install surveillance systems on their buses to detect drivers passing illegally.
In New York, the state Assembly passed a bill that would approve the use of photographic evidence to prosecute illegal passers. That bill and other pieces of state legislation that have been introduced this year aim to crack down on stop-arm running in various ways, including raising penalties.
The New York Association for Pupil Transportation has run demonstration projects using a related type of technology: a digital license reader. The association says that the results supported its estimate that there are more than 50,000 instances of illegal school bus passing in the state every school day.
Stop-arm surveillance systems certainly show potential in catching and deterring these dangerous violations. But as the cameras’ use becomes more widespread and draws more attention, might they be faced with public resistance and legal challenges?
That notion came to mind upon hearing of the Los Angeles City Council’s debate on whether to end the city’s contentious red-light camera program, which has units installed on 32 traffic signals.
As of our press time, the Los Angeles Times had reported that the council was deadlocked, with the deliberations expected to continue for weeks.
Yet a new survey from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety indicates that two-thirds of drivers in 14 big cities with longstanding red-light camera programs support their use. That finding follows a study by the institute that found that these cameras have reduced the rate of fatal red-light running crashes by 24 percent in these same cities.
Similarly, new research from the University of Missouri confronts the claims of many drivers that city governments install automated traffic monitoring systems as a way to generate revenue. According to the researchers, the safety benefits of the systems (school bus cameras were not part of the study) “far outweigh the potential for abuse.”
Any drivers who are worried about being photographed and fined, whether at a traffic light or next to a school bus, should shift their focus to following the laws. Then they can smile for the cameras — they have nothing to worry about.