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Discussion moves forward on Carroll County school bus cameras to catch ‘fly-by’ violators

Carroll County’s Board of Commissioners heard more from the public Thursday about a proposal to install cameras on the stop arm of school buses and permit the Sheriff’s Office to issue citations for cars caught driving past stopped school buses. One member of the public said he feels that isn’t doing enough to prevent incidents.

The public record will remain open for 10 more days for calls or emails from the public before the commissioners vote.

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At the start of a public hearing Thursday, Sean O’Connell, a parent of students in the Westminster area asked the county to look at other devices, like stop arm extensions, that would physically stop vehicles from passing buses as they unload and load students.

"My basic question was, are you going to prevent it or photograph it?” he said.

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He was concerned that speed cameras on roads are not effective because they’re a passive system. He was concerned that the proposed stop arm cameras would be similar.

“They’re there to generate money,” he said.

Sheriff Jim DeWees said he and Steve Lockard, superintendent of Carroll County Public Schools, had spoken back and forth about the issue since he first contacted the commissioners in February.

DeWees said he is also not a fan of red light cameras or stationary speed cameras and sees them as a “cash cow” for other counties.

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But the stop arm cameras on school buses would be a “force multiplier” for the Sheriff’s Office because they’re not stuck in one spot. Drivers tend to learn where a speed camera is and only slow down in one spot. The stop arm camera would not be that way, he said.

“And I believe that taking a picture and sending someone a ticket will change that behavior," he said. He wanted drivers to learn that flying by a stop arm may result in a ticket. In other areas, statistics have shown them that the number of fly-by incidents go down with stop arm cameras on buses, he said.

“My goal for it is not to be a cash cow. I hope we make zero money off of it,” he said. “I hope everybody becomes compliant.”

Commissioner Eric Bouchet asked if the Sheriff’s Office and the school system could give the county government annual updates on the program so they and the public would have a chance to analyze the success of the program.

Lockard said CCPS staff already provides a yearly transportation report to the Board of Education with statistics and would be happy to present it to the county also.

If the vote goes forward, CCPS will sign a five-year contract with a company to install cameras on all CCPS buses. The company will flag potential violators who go past the stop arm while the bus is stopped to load and unload children. The Sheriff’s Office will review cases for potential citations. Any citations would be subject to the same ability for legal review as other civil citations.

The hearing Thursday took place at a time when no school buses had been on the roads for nearly a week after the state mandated a two-week shutdown beginning March 16 in efforts to slow the spread of the new coronavirus and not overwhelm medical resources.

“I know we’re in a very weird situation here, but they’ve still got to move on it,” DeWees said at the start of the hearing.

Along with the precautions for schools, the county office building is requiring all visitors to call ahead of time and register before entering. County Administrator Roberta Windham said they relaxed that policy for the public hearing Thursday.

Information about the stop arm program had been available to the public following previous discussions before the Board of Education and the county commissioners.

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