The Virginia General Assembly passed legislation allowing localities to mail motorists $250 traffic summonses for passing stopped school buses based on evidence from bus-mounted automated cameras.
Localities have been allowed to install the cameras on buses for years, but previously were unable to enforce violations captured by the cameras. The legislation, which has not yet been signed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, would change state law to allow summonses to be delivered by mail.
Currently, photos generated by a camera-equipped bus with its flashing lights and stop arm activated must be hand-delivered.
“We are really optimistic about this bill — this is the furthest it has ever gotten,” said Jamie Gellner, Albemarle County Public Schools’ assistant director of transportation. “The way that [the law] was written previously, it required police officers to hand-deliver the summons, and that was not possible for most divisions.”
The goal of the camera initiative, she said, is to change behavior, rather than generate revenue.
“The police have advised us that usually it takes two or three years for the behavior to change, but that is why we have laws in existence,” Gellner said. “We are not trying to catch people and make money — we are trying to promote a positive behavior change.”
If McAuliffe signs the measure, the county would issue a request for proposals to install the cameras, said Jim Foley, transportation director for county schools. The division likely would have cameras activated within a few months of the law’s effective date, Foley said. The law would go into effect July 1.
The cameras cost about $1,500 per bus, Foley said, but installation and operation costs would be covered by the fines the equipment generates. Installation would not incur any upfront costs, he said.
Once activated, the cameras would send data to a central location. From there, it would be reviewed by Albemarle police to make sure a violation had been committed.
If police confirm there is a violation, the summons would be mailed to the owner of the vehicle.
“It’s expensive, but similar to the stop light camera violation — a notice is mailed to the owner,” Foley said. “So if my teenage daughter runs a stop arm, it’s going to me.”
Revenue from the tickets would go to the camera company, Albemarle County and toward reimbursing the police department’s time.
Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County, who voted in favor of the measure, said increases in traffic make the change necessary. Deeds’ 25th Senate district includes parts of Albemarle.
The buses have a particularly tough time in the urban ring of Albemarle, Deeds said.
“No other area I represent has an intersection like Rio Road and [U.S.] 29. We are not living in our daddy’s traffic patterns anymore, and you have to do what you can … to mitigate the danger,” Deeds said.
Deeds initially had concerns about the legislation, he said.
“You have to worry about people being denied due process, and that was the red flag that immediately went up to me … this is a pretty narrow piece of legislation,” he said. “I certainly would not support any legislation that could be applied more broadly than this.”
The legislation was introduced last year, but was killed in subcommittee.
During the 2012-13 school year, Albemarle ran a 41-day pilot program with stop arm cameras. In that time, buses that traveled Rio and Hydraulic roads recorded 79 violations.
The cameras, Gellner said, will primarily be installed on buses that serve higher-traffic areas. There is no plan to install them on all 150 of the division’s buses.
County bus driver Susan Newman, whose route includes Rio Road, said she deals with four or five people running her stop signs every morning and afternoon.
“My own personal reason I feel like they run the bus is because they are ignorant of the law and they don’t feel like they have to stop,” Newman said. “I have seen them speed up, and they just turn their head and act like if I don’t see it, if I don’t see that stop sign, I can just keep going.”