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Safety concerns have schools eyeing another camera system

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A camera sits on the exterior part of a school bus, near the flashing stop sign.

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By Brian Wudkwych
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Pitt County Schools staff is considering a plan to move forward with bus arm cameras to help combat drivers who pass stopped buses, an administrator told Board of Education members.

During Monday’s board work session, Director of Operations Matt Johnson detailed a proposal from a company that could equip the district’s buses with the additional safety features that would catch violators and potentially generate revenue for the school system.

“We were approached by a company about a month and a half ago that has bus arm cameras, and it is very similar to red light cameras,” Johnson said. “They come in and they install cameras on the stop arms of the school bus. If somebody runs it, they take pictures of the car, the plate. They get issued a civil fine if it’s found to be in violation.”

Gov. Roy Cooper signed a law in July to authorize the use of photographic or video evidence for the civil enforcement of school bus safety laws. During a visit to Pitt County for a ceremonial signing of the law, he said too many children are hurt and killed by motorists who pass stopped school buses.

A one-day school bus stop arm violation count published by SchoolBusSafety.org on March 22 revealed that 23 drivers illegally passed stopped buses in Pitt County. Johnson said the county currently has 25 buses piloting a program which features the arm cameras. 

With 220 buses transporting more than 12,000 students across 13,000 miles per day, board members said that student safety was the biggest concern.

“I think this is an example of using modern technology in a way that frankly is its highest purpose,” Caroline Doherty, board chairwoman, said, “to keep our students alive and unhurt. It’s very dangerous when cars pass buses.”

The board would have to vote on whether to seek additional funding from the Pitt County Board of Commissioners to get the program started. From there, fees would help recoup the startup costs and could be applied to other uses.

Still, Johnson has been working with the board’s legal team to draft up a proposal request to potentially present to the county, should board members vote in favor of the project.

“We’re going to be making sure we’re working with our attorneys to make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing and doing it right,” Johnson said. “And then at some point we’re probably going to have to submit this and present it to the county.”

The school system currently receives proceeds from the City of Greenville’s new red light camera system, which fines drivers $100 if they run red lights and five major city intersections where cameras have been installed.

Johnson said the school board will have to decide on which revenue-split works best for the stop arm cameras.

“There’s a lot of options that are out there: a 50-50 share, a 70-30, an 80-20,” Johnson said. “It just depends on how much we can put into the program to start and then we can adjust to it to meet our needs.”

The money potentially gained from the civil fines could help address another need for the buses, Johnson said.

The 2018 Capital Improvement Plan includes a proposed $1,078,000 to upgrade and install cameras to monitor school bus interiors. What was originally thought to be a $450,000-500,000 project will now cost about $5,000 per bus.

“If we can do the same thing on the stop arms, and start bringing that money in and start putting that money toward the interior cameras that we need for each one of these buses, that would be a win-win for Pitt County Schools,” Johnson said.

Contact Brian Wudkwych at bwudkwych@reflector.com or 252-329-9567 and follow @brianwudkwych on Twitter.

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