Passing a stopped school bus in Howard County is about to become an expensive infraction.
Cameras have been placed on Howard County school buses to snap photos of car license plates when drivers illegally pass a bus that is stopped for children. The fine for illegally passing a stopped school bus will be $250 starting April 1.
“The most common complaints we receive at the police department are about traffic violations, often in the very residential communities where school buses are picking up and dropping off our children,” Howard County Police Chief Lisa Myers said in a news release. “External cameras on school buses will send a message to drivers that it is critically important to stop for every school bus, every time.”
When schools operate normally, buses in Howard County make more than 10,000 stops per day to drive about 40,000 students. According to a survey by bus drivers in Howard County completed before the coronavirus pandemic, 290 cars failed to stop while the bus did.
“Every day, too many drivers are traveling in an unsafe manner near our bus stops and in our school zones, putting our children at great risk,” Howard schools Superintendent Michael Martirano said in a news release.
The external cameras were installed on the majority of school buses in Howard County by BusPatrol America LLC. The cameras can capture up to eight lanes of traffic in high definition and full color.
The school system’s program, in partnership with the county police department, was originally supposed to begin last spring but postponed until students returned to school because of the pandemic, according to Brian Nevin, one of the district’s transportation area managers.
On March 1, 4,000 students returned to classrooms as part of the district’s five-day-a-week program. Over the next five weeks, about 25,000 more students will return for hybrid learning two days a week.
During a May 2020 County Council meeting, member Liz Walsh said the fines will be a “good deterrent” for drivers passing school buses.
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“On my crowded roads with some badly designed intersections where kids stand in a large group to get on that bus, we get a lot of calls about really dangerous situations,” Walsh said. “I think cold hard cash is likely going to be a good deterrent.”
In Maryland, all motorists on both sides of the road must stop when a school bus is stopped. The only exception is cars on the opposite side of a divided highway with a median separation. Carroll and Montgomery counties also have similar school bus camera programs.
The program technically began March 1, but this month’s violators will be issued warnings instead of fines. The $250 fine will not come with any points added to a driver’s license.
The fines from the school bus camera program will go back into the costs of operating the program. Any profit will go to “dedicated to safety projects” like crosswalks and traffic safety equipment, according to police spokesperson Sherry Llewellyn.
David Ramsay, the school system’s transportation director, said the program is the third “automated enforcement initiative” in the county. The other two are school zone cameras and red light cameras.
The program was fully funded by BusPatrol America, with the fines collected being used to recover the costs of installing, operating and maintaining the camera system, according to school system spokesperson Brian Bassett.
“This is not designed to be a revenue-generating program,” Ramsay said. “This is designed to create a safer environment for our kids.”