After the death of Cobb student Karla Campos in December 2009, the school district began seeking ways to better protect the students as they got on and off a bus. At that time, two cameras were purchased and installed on school buses.
For the 2011-12 school year, the district purchased and installed an additional 100 stop arm cameras on 100 new school buses. The cameras, costing approximately $200 each, were purchased with SPLOST III funds from AngelTrax in Dothan, Ala.
The small, white cameras, which are located below the bus stop arm, can capture video or still images of drivers violating the law.
Bus drivers in Cobb County report at least one driver in violation of the law every day, said Rick Grisham, CCSD’s transportation director.
If a school bus is stopped and the stop arm is out, it is illegal for a driver to pass the school bus driving in either direction unless the lanes are divided by a median.
Mike Warner, executive director of fleet maintenance, said he hopes the cameras will encourage drivers to be more cautious.
Currently, only police officers who see offenders violating the stop arm law can cite drivers. The driver is subject to hundreds of dollars in fines and fees, and up to six points can be put on a violator’s drivers license.
School bus drivers can report the tag numbers and car descriptions to their supervisors as well, but James Arrowood, CCSD’s public safety director, said that is a distraction.
“We want our drivers to be focused on driving,” Arrowood said. “Plus, there’s no loss of memory with a camera.”
Grisham said that by the end of the 2010-11 school year, bus drivers had quit trying to file reports because there were so many elements involved.
Juggling between driving safely and paying attention to student activity on the buses was too much for drivers, Grisham added.
The school system is hoping to issue citations as early as January using the data they retrieve from the cameras.
“We are still waiting on the (Cobb County) Solicitor General’s Office on the correct way to proceed with citations,” Grisham said. “We can’t make violations until they can decide which court the citations go through.”
Grisham said that he hopes any revenue from the project could be earmarked for new camera equipment once it is determined who collects funds from citations, who will issue tickets and what court will handle the ticketing process.
Grisham added that he is not aware of any other school system that has committed to installing stop arm cameras.
“We’re taking the lead on this, and everyone’s waiting to see how it goes in Cobb County,” he said.
The bus cameras were divided up into five districts across Cobb County, with 20 buses per area.
Transportation personnel have not yet assigned the buses to any specific trouble areas, but Grisham said that they will take that step as the year progresses.
Warner said that they will have approximately 20 transportation employees a day review videos and report violations to the local police officials for data collection. Each camera can collect approximately 7 hours of data daily.
Spokesman Doug Goodwin said the cameras will also be part of a public awareness campaign that will begin when the students start back school on Aug. 15.
The school district has printed materials for parents/guardians informing them of the stop arm cameras and what is legal and illegal regarding the passing of stopped school buses.
“Public education is really a big part of this,” Goodwin said.
The installation of the cameras is in accordance with Senate Bill 57, also known as the Stop Arm Law, which was signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal on May 11, effective July 1.