School buses in Forsyth County may get an additional safety feature this year in an effort to curb drivers who fail to stop for children getting on and off the bus.
Forsyth County Schools transportation and safety department officials and the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office has been researching stop arm cameras for school buses that catch perpetrators who fail to wait behind a bus with its stop sign out.
“The most dangerous moment is when [the bus] is stopped and [children are] getting on and off the bus,” said Mike Satterfield, the school system’s new transportation director. “If this can do anything to alleviate that from happening, I think it’s worth pursuing.”
The conservation began this spring when the district participated in a statewide survey where bus drivers recorded how many times they were illegally passed.
“There were 189 instances that were documented by our drivers of vehicles illegally passing buses,” Satterfield said. “Their stop signs were out and red lights were on, and drivers were about to have students exit or enter the bus.”
Using that as an average, he said, 34,000 drivers illegally pass Forsyth County school buses each year.
As long as it’s for safety and not for money generation, I’m absolutely for it. We talked about reinvesting those profits back into school safety.Ron Freeman, Forsyth County Sheriff
Across Georgia, he said, there were about 7,900 illegal passes recorded on that day in April.
“Either the drivers are not aware of the rules of the road, but also there are drivers knowing the rules of the road and sometimes choosing not to follow them,” Satterfield said.
The results of the survey and a proposed intergovernmental agreement to install the cameras and for the Board of Commissioners to create a ticketing ordinance were presented to the Board of Education in July. The cameras could be ready to go by December.
About 375 bus drivers work for the district, and 27,500 students are transported daily, not including field trips or special activities.
There are 12 systems in Georgia that use cameras, Satterfield said, including Athens-Clarke, Macon-Bibb, Clayton, Cobb, Fulton, Douglas, Gwinnett, Habersham and Paulding counties.
Satterfield said it works.
“Cobb did it as a result of a fatality, an elementary school girl that was killed,” he said.
When Cobb started the program in 2009, they averaged 1,800 violations a day. They have seen a 55 percent reduction in violations, Satterfield said.
The cameras would not cost the county a penny — the vendor would install them and would be in charge of maintenance.
A sheriff’s office deputy or employee would be in charge of reviewing the camera footage and reporting any violations for a ticket.
The ticket would be a civic violation, meaning the consequence is to pay a fine – other counties charge $300 for a first violation, $750 for a subsequent one and $1,000 for a third – but it would not affect insurance and would not add points to the driver’s license.
“We write a lot of citations for people running through the bus stop sign, but we can only get 1 out of every 100,” Sheriff Ron Freeman said. “They’re an absolute danger to our children.”
Money coming from tickets is typically split between the sheriff’s office and the vendor, and Freeman said he has no interest in profiting off the technology.
“I said as long as it’s for safety and not for money generation, I’m absolutely for it,” he said. “We talked about reinvesting those profits back into school safety.”
That could include placing more school resource officers on campuses or being able to afford other safety features.
Superintendent Jeff Bearden said that would be a “very wise use of those monies.”
Freeman said if the cameras are approved, their launch would be “preceded by an intense media campaign.”
“This is not about catching people and giving tickets to get money,” he said. “It’s about keeping our children safe.”