Howard looking into adding cameras to catch, fine drivers passing stopped school buses

Jess Nocera
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

After receiving an email from a Howard County bus driver flagging a “growing problem” with vehicles failing to stop for school buses when they are picking up and dropping off students, a County Council member is asking whether it makes sense to add cameras to buses to catch violators.

“Some are repeat offenders because they know we do not have cameras,” the bus driver said in the email to Councilmember Jen Terrasa. “The county ain’t gonna do anything till some child dies.”

Earlier this year, Terrasa asked the school system about measures that are being considered and the topic of cameras is expected to be back on the table next month during National School Bus Safety Week, when the county asks drivers to tally violations.

In October 2017, Howard’s drivers recorded 423 incidents where a motorist failed to stop for a stopped school bus, up from 343 in 2016, a county schools spokesman said.

A similar survey done by the state Department of Education each spring documented a decline in violations statewide in the past two years. Howard County’s numbers from the April sample, which are provided to the state, show 290 violations in 2018, 189 in 2017 and 253 in 2016.

David Ramsay, director of transportation for the Howard school system, said in a letter “... it is my belief that camera technology can be leveraged to further assist in strategies to protect our students.”

Neighboring Montgomery County began installing bus cameras in October 2016, according to Richard Hetherington, the automated traffic enforcement manager for the Montgomery County Police. Hetherington said that the numbers being reported by bus drivers “were very high” and it led for the county to conduct studies.

According to the state’s report, Montgomery County had 661 one-day violations in April 2017, and in 2016, the county tallied 999 violations.

Currently 500 of the county 1,300 school buses have cameras, according to Hetherington.

BusPatrol America installed the cameras at no cost to the school system, according to David Poirier, president of the company. The company finances the operation upfront, including the equipment, installation and back-end processing of the citation. Citations are mailed to the owners of the vehicle, not the driver, and carry a $250 fine.

Hetherington said it’s still early to tell the success of installing the cameras but “it’s certainly increased awareness,” to drivers on the road.

“We see the video everyday and we have seen dozens and dozens of close calls where students are crossing streets or exiting the bus, potentially being struck,” Hetherington said.

Terrasa’s office has many “unanswered questions” about a camera program, according to Colette Gelwicks, an aide in Terrasa’s office.

Unlike Montgomery, which operates its school bus system, Howard uses buses from independent bus contractors.

Terrasa said it is “pretty dangerous how many people are passing buses.”

“I see a school bus has it’s stop sign up and I stop, that is what you do,” Terrasa said. “I don’t understand why this is a growing problem.”

jnocera@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jessmnocera

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