Passing a school bus illegally in Bibb County means a $300 fine, and more than 400 drivers are already paying the price.
The district, working with the company Bus Patrol America, installed cameras near the stop arm of about 55 buses over the summer, and almost 200 buses will be outfitted by the end of the year, said Anthony Jackson, the system’s transportation director.
“The beautiful thing about this is it frees up our (bus) drivers. The only thing our drivers have to continue to do is run their routes and continue to execute safe stops,” Jackson said. “I’m excited that we’re moving toward solutions and ways of reducing the risks of students.”
Bus Patrol reviews footage from the cameras daily and sends video of potential infractions to the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office to confirm or dismiss. The company mails out the citations, which include instructions for paying the fine online or contesting the charges, Solicitor-General Rebecca Grist said.
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As of Tuesday, 427 citations had been issued since school started Aug. 1, she said. Bus Patrol flagged 177 vehicles Aug. 1 and 168 on Aug. 2, but only a portion of those were forwarded on, Jackson said.
The potential violations have slowed down since then, with about 40 to 50 each day, said Sgt. Elton Britt, who reviews all the video evidence. He thinks more people are starting to become aware and pay more attention, but the numbers still seem a little low to him.
“The (camera) can only get so many cars at a time. There are more passing the school bus than they’re able to catch,” he said. “I don’t know if they just don’t understand the law, or if people just are in too big of a hurry to stop.”
A first violation is $300, a second is $750, and a third violation within five years is $1,000, Britt said. Since they are civil citations, no points are issued on a driver’s license, Grist said.
Seventy percent of the fees collected go back to Bus Patrol, and the rest is split between the Bibb County school district, the solicitor’s office and sheriff’s office.
Houston County has had stop-arm cameras on several of its buses since 2013, said Beth McLaughlin, director of community and school affairs. The Sheriff’s Office works with America Traffic Solutions to identify offenders, Capt. Ronnie Harlowe said.
From June 1, 2016, to Aug. 1, 2017, 182 citations were issued to drivers who passed school buses in the county illegally.
“I think it is a good program that’s in place,” Harlowe said. “We just want to make sure that motorists are aware that school’s back in. We just ask (people) to be on the lookout for our children and watch for the stopped school bus and drive safe.”
The Jones County district put recording devices on eight school buses in March 2016, Assistant Superintendent Kevin Sterling said. The company Gatekeeper Systems monitors the footage and forwards it to the Jones County Sheriff’s Office, Sgt. Angel Feliciano said.
The cameras have forward and rear angles, and they record every stop. Feliciano said he’s seen footage of eight cars passing one stopped bus.
Fifty-five citations were issued in Jones County during the 2016-17 year, Sterling said. There have been six citations so far this year. Sterling said the cameras have cut down on violations, but it hasn’t stopped them.
“You can’t dispute video evidence,” Feliciano said. “We’re not out there to get more money. The whole idea is to keep our children safe. If the public knows, they’ll have that second thought that there may be a child out there.”
Unless there is a physical barrier such as a median, traffic on both sides of the road must stop when a bus’ stop bar and flashing lights are engaged, Grist said. But if in doubt, a driver should just stop, Britt said.