County and city schools installed the bus camera system, known as CrossingGuard, a new technology from Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions (ATS), before school started in August.
The cameras automatically detect any vehicle that illegally passes a bus with a deployed stop arm in either direction. The camera then captures a 20-second video of the violation and still images of a vehicle’s license plate. The violation video and images are then sent to Carrollton Police Department and Carroll County Sheriff’s Office for review and approval before a citation is issued.
Jackie Coffee, transportation director for the county system, said she has seen the numbers of citations decrease in the months since the system’s implementation. The county’s cameras caught almost 100 possible citations in the first week of school in August. That number has decreased significantly every week since then, Coffee said.
“People are getting the word out,” Coffee said. “That word of mouth helps us — nobody wants these citations, so they tell their friends and family members to be more careful. It’s making a difference.”
Coffee said many people were “ignorant” of the traffic laws concerning buses, and the raised awareness campaign, as well as the bus cameras, has helped change that.
“We are much closer to our goal of educating people in the county about the dangers of not knowing bus safety than we were six months ago,” Coffee said.
The county school system has also been working with students, particularly elementary students, to instruct them on how to be safe around buses, even if drivers aren’t.
“The kids have been instrumental in their parents’ behavior,” Coffee said. “Kids tell their parents why they shouldn’t do something because they heard it in school, and it starts to change their ways.”
Craig George, director of transportation for Carrollton City Schools, said the system has officially issued 65 citations, with only 10 or so of them paid.
“It’s been a really good thing so far, but we are still having problems, especially on four-lane roads like Bankhead Highway,” George said. “Everyone thinks that since the bus is all the way on the other side of the median, they don’t have to stop. But if that stop-arm is out, they have to stop.”
George said the bus system has also gotten help from Daylight Savings Time in the morning, but has been hurt by the time change in the evening.
“Now that the time has changed, we’re picking kids up in daylight again,” George said. “But the flip side of that is, when our after-school program gets out between 5 and 6 p.m., it’s completely dark out there. So drivers should know that just because it’s after 5 p.m., there could still be students getting on buses.”
The school systems were two of the first few Georgia school districts to implement the technology, which can send citations of up to $300 to violating drivers.
For both school systems, ATS will receive 75 percent of the first year’s citation revenues, with the school systems receiving the remaining 25 percent. In year two of the program, ATS will receive 60 percent of the funds, and in years 3-5, the company will receive 50 percent.
“This is not to generate revenue,” said Maj. Craig Dodson of the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office. “The sheriff’s office gets nothing. We’re giving it all to the school system. It’s absolutely for the safety of our kids.”
The cameras are provided and installed free of charge by the Arizona-based company, which also specializes in stop-light cameras.
Georgia law requires all traffic to stop when a school bus turns on its red flashing lights and activates its stop arm. This applies to motorists driving on any roads without a center divider or median. Only vehicles traveling on a highway of four lanes or more with a center divider (not just a center turn lane) are exempt.
The penalty is a $300 fine for the first violation, a $750 fine for the second and a $1,000 fine for a third violation in a five-year period.
Coffee said she hates to “hit people in pocketbook,” but knows that’s where people will listen.
“I don’t want to see anyone get a ticket, but I definitely don’t want to see a kid get hurt,” the director said. “We’re hoping that the tickets will keep decreasing, as people accept and begin to recognize the rules and laws.”
If a police officer catches a driver passing a stopped bus, the officer can issue up to a $1,000 moving violation misdemeanor and dock six points off the person’s license — 15 points within 24 months can get a driver’s license suspended.
The company-issued citations won’t carry points or be reported to the driver’s insurer.
The Georgia Legislature passed a bill in 2011 (O.C.G.A. § 40-6-163) that allows districts to install cameras to help law enforcement identify and punish more offenders.