Cameras on school bus ‘stop’ arms a good idea

Published 3:00 am Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Displays of school supplies at area retailers are confirmation that we’re inside the one-month countdown to the resumption of classes.

We imagine area systems are getting their buses cleaned and serviced in preparation for hauling students. In some places around Alabama, however, there’s talk of doing a little extra work.

The Legislature in April passed a bill by Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba, allowing the state’s school systems to (a.) place cameras on the “Stop” arms of school buses to catch drivers who illegally pass the buses; and (b.) contract with a third-party company to install and maintain said cameras, and send citations to drivers who get caught.

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The Tuscaloosa News reported on the issue last week, and noted that Jackson and Limestone counties already are looking at such a setup.

The Mobile County system launched one last year, authorized by local legislation, according to a report on the School Transportation News website.

We think all school systems with bus fleets — we’re of course focused on the ones in Northeast Alabama — should do the same, and work on finding a way to go from “looking at” to “making it happen.”

First, a review of state law: Drivers who are following school buses are required to stop when the bus driver puts out the “Stop” arm, and remain stopped until the arm is pulled back.

One would think sheer common sense and a hesitance to put a child getting on or off a bus in jeopardy would ensure compliance.

However, a state Department of Education official told the News that a survey showed 1,361 illegal passings during the last school year, one for every 280 miles traveled by school buses.

That’s just wrong. The only acceptable number for this scenario is zero — period.

Owners of vehicles that get caught will get stung should a school system install the cameras. Holley’s bill authorizes a $300 fine for anyone caught on video passing a school bus with its “Stop” arm extended.

The county or city and school system would each get 40 percent of the revenue, and the state Departments of Education and Public Safety would split the remaining 20 percent, earmarked for school bus safety initiatives and general highway safety enforcement, respectively.

Let the screeching begin: “This is just like those red-light cameras playing ‘Gotcha.’ … This is all about raising revenue. … Say ‘hello’ to ‘Big Brother’ and his eye in the sky.”

No it isn’t.

A close call on whether a traffic signal is green, red or yellow isn’t in the same solar system as a clear, blatant violation of the law that cannot be spun into anything save an inherently dangerous situation.

There is, however, a stipulation in the law that requires school systems to verify recorded violations with local law enforcements to ensure they are what they are before any citations are sent. Plus a vehicle owner can challenge the citation on its merits, or attempt to prove he or she wasn’t behind the wheel at the time of the violation. We think that’s adequate due process.

As far as revenue, we imagine school systems would rather not collect any cash, because that would mean no drivers are engaged in this dangerous behavior and putting kids at risk.

Maybe the threat of an “eye in the sky” is enough to ensure that.