Buses will be boasting new safety technology when they roll out Monday morning to transport students across the county as Carroll County Public Schools begins its hybrid learning plan.
The school system’s entire fleet of 311 buses are now equipped with stop-arm enforcement devices to help reduce the illegal passing of buses and ensure a safer journey to and from schools. CCPS is partnering with BusPatrol, a Virginia-based safety tech company, and they presented their initiative at a news conference Thursday morning at Winters Mill High School in Westminster.
A training bus outfitted with the BusPatrol technology ― multiple cameras for the interior and exterior of the vehicle, as well as a stop-arm video monitoring device ― sat in Winters Mill’s front parking lot, flanked by a line of police cars. Seven of those were Carroll County Sheriff’s Office vehicles, and one from the Westminster Police Department.
Standing in front of the Sheriff’s Office cars were some of Carroll County’s student resource officers, deputies assigned to patrol high schools, while Sheriff Jim DeWees spoke to a group about the benefits of the partnership.
“My office is a strong supporter of this,” he said. “It’s something that we’ve been looking forward to for quite some time.”
School buses will be connected to a wireless communications platform used by emergency response vehicles that include fire service and law enforcement. Motorists who violate the law by passing a stopped bus can be tracked down with this technology with better speed and accuracy.
If a violation is detected by bus cameras, it goes straight to BusPatrol for an initial video review. DeWees said. License plate information is also attained, and DeWees said his office is then notified of any violators. Once officers confirm the offense, he said, BusPatrol initiates a citation and mails it to the vehicle’s registered owner.
DeWees said such citations are $250, with no driver’s license points.
“Simply put, this is a force-multiplier for law enforcement,” DeWees said. “Three-hundred-and-thirty sets of eyes will travel the entire route watching for violators.”
The safety technology suite and program management is expected to come at no cost to the school district, county or taxpayers. Costs are to be covered by the fines collected for violations of the stop-arm law, according to a CCPS news release.
“This new project ties perfectly with our philosophy of student safety from door to door,” DeWees said. “No parent or guardian should every worry about their child’s safety going to and from school.”
The buses’ stop-arm cameras can monitor up to eight lanes of traffic, according to BusPatrol’s website, and exterior cameras record views from the windshield, passenger loading zone and rear of the vehicle. GPS access allows for proper location of each bus, and each vehicle’s computer “brain” can hold up to 22 days of data and video recordings.
DeWees said there will be a public education campaign in the next few weeks to help people get reacquainted with seeing buses on the roads, in earnest, for the first time since March when schools closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The school system’s hybrid learning plan begins Monday for elementary and middle schools, but the Carroll County Board of Education voted at its Oct. 14 meeting to delay the opening of high schools until the start of the second quarter next month. Still, there figures to be hundreds of students riding buses in the morning and afternoon beginning next week.
DeWees pointed to a one-day survey in April 2018, taken by bus drivers and collected by the Maryland State Department of Education, that showed a reported 3,812 violations. The nine-year average in Carroll County, DeWees said, is 112 violations on a given day.
Steven Lockard, CCPS superintendent, said the county is fortunate to be part of this initiative.
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“We are really pleased to be able to help enhance student safety and provide that force-multiplier,” he said. “We don’t want any of our students to become a statistic here in Carroll County Public Schools.”