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School buses to get eyes on bad drivers

POSTED: April 5, 2012 8:10 p.m.

The Effingham County School System soon may have high-tech sets of eyes to identify drivers who illegally pass school buses.

The board of education heard a proposal Wednesday from Joanne Diorio of Affiliated Computer Services to equip some of the county’s school buses with exterior cameras to photograph cars that pass school buses that are stopped to pick up or drop off students.

“When students enter or leave a school bus, that’s when they’re most vulnerable,” Diorio said.

No timetable is set to vote on the matter. Superintendent Randy Shearouse said he will recommend the school board approve the cameras and have them in place for next school year.

“Running a school bus stop sign is an area I have a hard time compromising on. If we can save one child’s life, this is well worth doing,” Shearouse said after the meeting.

The small cameras would be installed on the exterior sides of buses. No camera components would be inside the bus and no pictures would be taken of students on the bus.

The camera is active anytime the bus engine is running, and a motion sensor activates the camera to record still photos and a 12-second video clip of any car approaching and passing the bus. A ticket for a violation is mailed to the owner of the vehicle.

“There’s no intervention at all by the bus driver. They have plenty on their hands,” Diorio said.

The cameras would not cost the school district any money. Affiliated Computer Services installs and maintains the cameras, recouping its investment by receiving a portion of the fines from the tickets, Diorio said.

“If it doesn’t cost us anything, why not do it?” school board chairman Lamar Allen said after the meeting.

School district transportation coordinator Jimmy Helmly told the board of education that Effingham County is seeing a dramatic increase in drivers not stopping for school buses. He referenced May 5, 2011, the day Georgia officials randomly chose for a sampling of bus stop violations across the state. Effingham County bus drivers reported 33 violations in that day alone.

“I am amazed by 33 in one day,” Shearouse said.

“I can’t believe that many people run school bus stop signs,” Allen said. “That’s stupid.”

Effingham County Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie attended the school board meeting and voiced his support. McDuffie said the sheriff’s office catches as many bus stop violators as possible, but it would benefit greatly from the documentation the cameras provide.

“If the school bus driver can’t get the car tag number, I’m pretty much dead in the water,” McDuffie said. “This program sounds like a win-win – it doesn’t cost the taxpayers anything and it pretty much funds itself.”

Not all of Effingham County’s 122 school buses would be equipped with cameras. Diorio recommended starting with cameras on about 10 percent of the school bus fleet.

School officials would designate cameras for buses on routes they determine have the greatest risk of drivers not stopping for school buses. The cameras could be rotated to other buses if necessary.

“If driver behavior changes on those roads and, in 60 to 90 days citations have stopped, the cameras can easily be moved to another set of buses,” Diorio said.

The Georgia Legislature approved the use of exterior school bus cameras in 2011 under Senate Bill 57. The penalties are $300 for the first offense, $750 for a second offense and $1,000 for any more violations in a five-year period.

“The fines are going to be a financial burden for a lot of people. They’ll only do it once,” Diorio said.

Diorio said ACS would receive $135 from each ticket, with the school district and law enforcement receiving the rest. She added that ACS does not mail any ticket until law enforcement approves it.

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