SUWANEE — Following a recent school board decision, those who make the dangerous and illegal decision to pass a stopped school bus are more likely to get caught in the act.
Beginning in the 2013-14 school year, many of the district’s fleet of buses (300 of more than 1,800 total) will have a “stop arm camera” installed on the vehicle.
Approved this week by Gwinnett County Public Schools officials, it’s a measure that will go into effect when classes start in August. Since it is 100 percent violator funded, there is no cost to the taxpayer.
“The fines generate the cost of the maintenance, and (revenue) is split between the company, the police department and school district,” said Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks. He said that first offenders would pay $300, second-time violators: $500; and third-time offenders $750.
“It’s a growing concern,” Wilbanks said. “It’s alarming the number of people who do it. It’s against the law, and it’s an unsafe situation.”
Chairman Carole Boyce said she hoped the measure would “improve safety all around.”
According to the website for Redflex Traffic Systems — the company that the school board decided to contract with — there are no upfront costs, and using the cameras offers the chance to “generate surplus funds.”
District spokeswoman Sloan Roach said that “while we have been very fortunate that we have not experienced a tragedy like some other districts, the issue of drivers running school bus stop arms is a problem we continue to experience in Gwinnett.”
“We feel this is a proactive step we can take to help ensure our students are delivered safely as they travel to and from school,” Roach said.
She said the district tried a pilot run last year using four buses, during which time the cameras recorded 444 violations. She added that “during that same time we received 1,903 reports of violations from drivers who were not driving buses with cameras.”
Roach said that when the bus stop arm is activated, the system automatically detects vehicles passing the stopped school bus, requiring no driver involvement. It also records a close-up of the license plate and a broader image of the violation itself.
“As the district rolls out this self-sustaining initiative, it will work to remind Gwinnett drivers of the rules regarding this issue,” she said.
According to Georgia law, vehicles traveling in both directions must stop when a school bus activates its stop arm on a two-lane road or a multi-lane road with no median or barrier. Vehicles traveling in the same direction as a school bus must always stop, but motorists traveling in the opposite direction can proceed (with caution) when there is an unpaved median or concrete barrier separating the opposing lanes.