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October 19, 2011  |   Comments (4)   |   Post a comment

Wash. law could help crack down on illegal bus passing

A new law in Washington state allows school districts to install automated camera systems on buses to identify vehicles illegally passing the buses when students are boarding or disembarking.  Photo by Lois Cordes

A new law in Washington state allows school districts to install automated camera systems on buses to identify vehicles illegally passing the buses when students are boarding or disembarking.

Photo by Lois Cordes

OLYMPIA, Wash. — A new state law may make it easier for school districts and law enforcement officials to catch motorists who illegally pass stopped school buses, thanks to the efforts of a bus driver.

Substitute Senate Bill 5540 was signed by Gov.  Chris Gregoire in May and went into effect on July 22.

The law allows school districts to voluntarily install automated camera systems on school buses to identify vehicles illegally passing the buses when students are boarding or disembarking. The law restricts the camera system to only take pictures of the vehicle and its license plate — not the driver or any passengers.

The camera systems must be approved by a majority vote of school board members before they can be installed.

Fines from tickets generated through the cameras are identical to fines given by police officers: currently $394. The revenue generated from the automated tickets can be used to offset the cost of the purchase of the camera system and for administrative costs. Any funds remaining are returned to the school district to be used for school zone safety projects.

Allan Jones, director of student transportation at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), told SBF in a recent interview that it is unique to use the revenue from the tickets to pay for the camera systems and the administrative costs, and for everything left over to be used for school zone safety projects.

“We’re telling people to work with the local law enforcement before having the cameras installed and make sure to get the press involved. Our main motivation isn’t to do this quietly and generate revenue — it’s to give attention to this issue,” he added.

The inspiration for the bill that ultimately became the law came from Brennor Beck, a school bus driver for Peninsula School District in Gig Harbor, Wash.

He told SBF in an interview that he was frustrated by the number of motorists who illegally pass his school bus (on average, two to three per day), but he was also concerned by the figures statewide.

“I’ve had other drivers tell me how their stop arms are being run. School buses within this city limit are illegally passed at least 50 times a day, and within the district it’s more like 100,” he said, acknowledging that it’s a nationwide epidemic, and adding that instances of motorists passing buses on the right is “especially mind-boggling.”

Beck spoke with an official from the Public School Employees Union of Washington about the state’s illegal bus passing problem, who worked to introduce the bill in the Legislature.

“When it came up for hearing, I testified before the state Senate Transportation Committee, and I also went before the state House Transportation Committee. We had a school bus the previous year that was hit head on in the morning when the driver was picking up kids. I got a photo from the fire department and got it blown up to poster size and took it to those hearings to let the members look at it,” Beck said.

The OSPI is revising its School Bus Specifications Manual to include the new law. Moreover, state law gives the OSPI the authority to govern the design, marking and mode of operation of public school buses in the state, and the agency has proposed the following specifications for the camera systems:

• They may produce photo, micro-photo or electronic images.
• Images must be legible in any lighting condition without use of a visible flash.
• Cameras may be mounted inside or outside the bus. If they’re mounted outside, they must not extend more than 6 inches out from the side of the bus.
• They must verify that the “STOP” sign is deployed and red lights are flashing at the time of detection.
• They must capture the rear license plate, from either direction, at the time an illegally passing vehicle is detected.
• They may be located on the left and/or the right side of the bus.
• They shall capture images only of the lanes immediately to the left and/or the right of the bus.
• They must not be driver activated or distract the driver during operation of the bus.
• They must not obstruct the driver’s direct line of sight in any direction.

A meeting held on Oct. 7 provided an opportunity for the public to comment on the details of the camera specification language. Jones said the meeting went smoothly, and while at this point the OSPI doesn’t have any data on the cameras’ effect, he is optimistic about the repercussions of the law.

“We’re at the very beginning stages of having the cameras installed on any buses, so we don’t have experience yet of seeing what the before and after impact is, but I think this is a great opportunity to get our message out there about the importance of stopping for buses,” he added.

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Read more about: stop arm running/illegal passing

I think it is a good idea, but people need to no the law that makes it legal to pass a school bus with "RED" flashing lights. I would venture to say people have no clue. You are not required to stop if a on coming bus with "Red" flashing light is stopped and there is a three (3) lane road or more. That is a road that has a center turning lane to a four lane road. This is actually safer law because Washington State is one of the few states that requires the bus to only off load children on their side of the road i.e. children can not cross a three (3) road. Easy way to remember is the bus only has control of the lane it is in and the one next to them.

Brad Keough    |    Feb 09, 2015 12:10 AM

As with any specification in print, the criminal attorney will break down every word in the specifications that are required for a conviction in a court proceeding should a fatality or serious injury to a child happens resulting from someone running a legally extended school bus stop arm. Any successful State or States that have developed court tested specifications resulting in the prosecution of individual cases where children are killed or injured will and should become a model for ALL States. It has been long over due that States become strong on the protection of school children being killed while getting on and off their school bus. The School Bus Fleet magazine, School Transportation News magazine and NAPT amoung other school transportation associations have been trying for many years to get a Federal law so that States are ALL on the same law statute yet that would put it into a federal statute thus a felony conviction. Really, that should not matter - since killing or injuring children at their school bus stops needs to stop - period. It is sad even when a police officer witnesses the actual crime a prosecutor may not administer the statute like they are supposed to. How else are children going to be protected if the law statute is weak and there are loop holes attorneys can dance through. Thank you to the States whose legislators are finally making laws that law enforcement and prosecutors can support throughout the legal process inside a court room proceeding. If I have misunderstood the years of history involved in trying to improve the safety of school children please correct my views. You say when it involves "bullying" if you see something - do something! Well many of us who have worked in school transportation twenty plus years have seen children killed and heard all the stories. So it is with great expectation that now legislation will "do something" since we have all been asking for help all these years. Thanks again for your help!!!

Dan Luttrell    |    Oct 26, 2011 12:06 PM

I am glad this is going in effect. They are a lot of drivers who do not stop, because they are distracked;ie cell phone, reading a book, or just trying not to get stopped by the bus. Bicycle are the worst stop paddle runners. They figure they don't have to stop because they are not motorized. haha you get the same a big fat ticket. Thank You, Bus Driver

Bus Driver    |    Oct 23, 2011 11:51 PM

I'm glad the new law specifies (2) things:(1) That the camera takes the picture with the "Red Lighta" flashing.Because I have been confused about stopping when the "Yellow Lights" are flashing,which mean "Caution,Slow", and still be legal to proceed! (2) the camera will be taking pictures only of the immediate lane on both sides of the bus,not the left turn lane which would be the second lane at least,where there is one. Thank You, Sammy Samuelson

Sammy Samuelson    |    Oct 21, 2011 04:40 PM

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