Steve Simmons is acting president-elect of NAPT and director of transportation for Columbus (Ohio) City Schools.

Steve Simmons is acting president-elect of NAPT and director of transportation for Columbus (Ohio) City Schools.

Many of us recall the “olden days” when Allen Funt’s hilarious TV show “Candid Camera” was a big hit. The show involved concealed cameras filming ordinary people being confronted with unusual situations.

The producers would use props, like a car without a motor or a roll with a string attached or an unanswerable telephone, to play a joke on someone. When the joke was revealed, victims would be told the show’s catchphrase, “Smile, you’re on ‘Candid Camera.’”

Little did we know then that being on a candid camera eventually would be commonplace. Today, being on camera — video, that is — happens all the time. On a personal level, cell phones and tablets are used to document everything we do, some of which is shared instantly with family and friends, or posted for the world to see on Internet social media sites.

Government and business cameras are also omnipresent. Federal and state buildings, shopping centers, banks, entertainment venues, airports and many more have video cameras recording everything.

Next time you’re stopped at a traffic light, look up and you might see one or more cameras aimed at you and your vehicle to record traffic flow and infractions, like running a red light. Cameras on satellites can reputedly even read your license plate from space.

To paraphrase the old saw: These days, you can run, but it’s really hard to hide!

Privacy advocates often protest the intrusion, but the camera tide would be hard to turn back. Concern about terrorism following 9/11 changed the privacy paradigm.

Pupil transportation is no exception to the camera trend. Our industry long ago began installing cameras in buses. Today, many of the nation’s 450,000 school buses are equipped with state-of-the-art cameras that do more than ever before. It’s a technology we have embraced and welcome.

Cameras help local officials “get it right” when there are questions about driver and student conduct aboard buses, actions at school bus stops, and the behavior of other motorists when a school bus is loading or discharging students.

One such incident went viral on the Internet recently. In Graham, Washington, an SUV passed a stopped school bus on the right and nearly ran down several children who were in motion to board the bus. The bus was equipped with a camera aimed at the boarding steps, and it recorded the near-tragedy with jaw-dropping footage.

The SUV missed the children by just inches. Fortunately, they reacted in time, jumping backward as the vehicle raced by. Witnesses say the driver didn’t even slow down, ignoring the school bus with lights flashing.

Police and citizens were using the video footage to try to identify the driver and to foster a broader discussion about not passing stopped school buses with lights flashing. This type of reckless endangerment should not go unpunished.

At the federal level, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) uses footage from school bus cameras extensively. The footage helps the agency evaluate a variety of factors and is particularly useful in crash reconstruction. That’s why the NTSB recently issued a recommendation to NAPT, other industry trade associations, camera suppliers, motor carrier operators and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that buses not just have cameras, but certain kinds of cameras.

Recommendation H-15-2 states: “Encourage your members to ensure that any onboard video system in their vehicles provides  visibility  of  the  driver  and  of  each  occupant  seating  location,  visibility forward  of  the  vehicle,  optimized  frame  rate,  and  low-light  recording  capability.”

NAPT immediately shared this recommendation with its members through our email Dispatch, and we encouraged them — as we do now to everyone reading this article — to consider this NTSB recommendation as they research camera technology for their buses.
Though decisions about installing cameras and other safety and security equipment not required by federal regulations are made by local officials based on community circumstances, budgets and other factors, the needs of school bus operations seem to be extraordinary.

Documenting student and driver behavior, knowing who is standing at a bus stop and documenting the illegal passing of stopped school buses are critical aspects of everyone’s operation, regardless of where you live or the size of your fleet.

NAPT and the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services have invited NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart to speak at the NAPT Summit in Richmond, Virginia, in November, and he has agreed to be there. We expect that in his remarks he will expand on NTSB Recommendation H-15-2 and other NTSB initiatives.

Finally, the trade show at the NAPT Summit in Richmond is the best place to learn about the latest in cameras and other school bus safety and security products. Come see the technology for yourself.