As summer break comes to an end for Middle Georgia schools, public officials are reminding drivers to be cautious for the sake of students who ride buses.
A majority of crashes involving buses are the fault of the other driver, according to data from the Georgia Department of Education.
Anthony Jackson, transportation director for Bibb County schools, said the district has added safety measures to deter drivers from illegally passing school buses and to help keep students from getting off the bus when it is not safe.
In 2017, Bibb County contracted with a company that agreed to outfit each of the district’s buses with $10,000 camera systems at no cost to the district. In return, the company, called Force Multiplier Solutions, would keep 70% of revenue from citations. The remaining 30% would be split evenly among the State Court of Bibb County, Bibb schools and the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office.
So far, the camera systems have been installed on only 75 of the district’s 200 buses.
Force Multiplier Solutions Inc went dark in early 2018 amid a bribery scandal in Dallas, Texas, involving the company’s chief executive officer, according to The Baton Rouge Advocate. The company’s assets were purchased by BusPatrol America LLC.
BusPatrol’s Chief Executive Officer Jean Souliere told The Advocate that Bus Patrol “bought only the company’s assets, particularly its intellectual property, but not its contracts or liabilities.”
The Bibb County Board of Education has not terminated its contract with Force Multiplier Solutions, Bibb schools spokeswoman Stephanie Hartley said, adding that it is “kind of like a CVS buying out Rite-Aid. Our contract was still valid.”
Jackson said the school district is in talks with BusPatrol about a contract, but a timeline for that agreement was unclear.
Jackson did not respond when asked about when Bibb courts, sheriff’s office and schools could start seeing some of the revenue from the nearly 8,000 citations that have been issued to motorists for illegally passing school buses in Bibb County over the past couple years.
BusPatrol so far has collected $1,269,441 from citations, Jackson said. Citations were $300 until July 1, 2018, when the law changed and reduced them to $250 a piece.
Bibb State Court Solicitor-General Rebecca Grist said about 500 tickets have been contested. If a ticket is unpaid, BusPatrol “has civil remedies it can pursue,” she said.
Even so, the cameras have been successful in deterring drivers from illegally passing buses, Jackson said, so much so that “bus drivers ask for them.”
“People are stopping when there’s a divided median in the road, which they technically don’t have to, but because they are aware of this now, they are,” he said. “That did not happen prior to these cameras.”
Earlier this year, the state department of education started requiring a new safety feature to increase safety while students are getting on and off the bus.
The three-way door switch “allows a driver to actually activate the cross arm, the crossing gate and the red flashing lights prior to the door itself opening,” Jackson said. “It used to all happen simultaneously.”
Peach, Houston and Bibb counties start school Aug. 1. Monroe County schools start class Aug. 2, Twiggs schools start Aug. 6 and Jones County schools start Aug. 7.
Motorists can help keep students safe by practicing the following tips provided by AAA as part of its “School’s Open Drive Carefully” awareness campaign:
▪ Slow down in school zones: A person hit by a car traveling 25 mph is two-thirds less likely to be killed compared to a person hit by a car traveling just 10 mph faster.
▪ Reverse responsibly: Be aware of your car’s blind spots. Check for kids around your car before slowly backing up. Teach your kids to never play near cars, even ones that are parked.
▪ Eliminate distractions: Taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles your chances of crashing.
▪ Talk to your teen driver: Car crashes are the no.1 cause of death for teens in America. More than a quarter of fatal crashes involving teenage drivers occurs after school between 3-7 p.m.