Veteran school bus driver Marion Fuller said she’s tired of drivers zipping past as children board and disembark.
“I drive on Route 53, and this has happened to me three times in less than a year,” said Fuller, who has been driving school buses for 30 years.
Albemarle County supervisors Wednesday approved an ordinance allowing cameras to be installed on the stop-arms of school buses.
Last spring, the county School Board ran a one-month pilot program in which cameras were installed on two school buses. Those cameras captured 79 incidents of drivers passing buses either picking up or dropping off students.
“We are very frustrated with the fact that we can’t get compliance,” said Dean Tistadt, the school division’s chief operating officer.
Bus drivers are responsible for reporting people who violate the law. This is stressful for bus drivers, Fuller said.
“Imagine being in the driver’s seat of a school bus, traveling on a busy road when you’re approaching a student’s stop,” Fuller said. “If a person happens to run those lights, we’re also trying to get the license number, info about the car, and info about the driver.”
Fuller said she has seen three drivers in the past year ignore the activated flashing red lights, including at spots where kindergarten and preschool children disembark.
“The most important part of this is the safety of the students,” Fuller said.
Jim Foley, the school division’s director of transportation, said the primary intent behind the cameras is to change drivers’ behavior and improve safety rather than raise revenue.
“Most providers install the hardware at no cost to the county,” Foley said.
Instead, installers collect a portion of each $250 civil penalty issued to violators.
“If the police catch someone now, it’s a Class 1 misdemeanor,” said Larry Davis, county attorney. “This is in lieu of charging someone with reckless driving.”
He also suggested this nuance could increase the number of violators successfully caught.
“The burden of proof is a lot less because it’s a civil fine rather than a criminal charge, but we think that the process can be effective,” Davis said.
Ron Lantz, deputy chief of county police for operations, said photos would be destroyed as long as the image no longer is needed as evidence.
Additionally, the cameras only would be activated by a car that passes a stopped school bus in violation of the law.
“I am adamantly in support of this, and I wish that you would get it going faster than December if possible,” said Supervisor Ann H. Mallek. “I mean, that’s the ultimate thing, that they’re going to run over some kid.”
A competitive bidding process will be used to select a vendor to supply the cameras. The program is expected to be implemented by the end of the year.