Anyone driving through town has seen it: A school bus stops, turns on its lights and puts its stop paddle out to stop traffic as students get on or off the bus. Drivers are required to stop and wait until the lights on the bus are off and the stop paddle is folded to the side of the bus. If they don’t, the bus drivers try to take down the information on the vehicle to send to local law enforcement.
Gene Marsh, transportation supervisor for Central Valley School District, said drivers who violate the stop paddles can expect a ticket of $349.
To help the bus drivers, the district is testing a program that places cameras on three school buses. The program will run through the end of the school year.
The Redflex Student Guardian system came to the district on a trial basis for free – the district will try them out, see what kind of data they receive from the cameras, and the school board will decide if they want to keep and expand the program.
“I’m kind of excited about it,” Marsh said. He said he remembered an instance a number of years ago when someone failed to stop and hit a child, but that hasn’t happened lately. He doesn’t believe that drivers in Central Valley neighborhoods violate the stop paddles more than in other areas, but he hopes the cameras will make drivers more aware of their surroundings and stop when required.
For the trial period, drivers won’t receive anything from Redflex if they run the sign. As is current practice, if a bus driver sees a car running the sign and records the license plate, drivers could receive a citation. With the new technology, citations will not be issued; the district is simply gathering data. That could change if the district decides to keep the program.
Darren Kolack, national business development director of Redflex, said there are two cameras on each bus. The drivers don’t interact with the system while they are driving.
The high-definition, wide-angle cameras take pictures of violators, much like the red-light cameras in the city of Spokane. The cameras take a picture of the vehicle, capturing the make and model and the license plate. The computer system notes the time and the GPS location of the incident. If the program goes into effect, the registered owner of the vehicle would receive the citation.
Central Valley is the first district in Washington to test the cameras. In July 2011, the Washington State Senate passed SB 5540, which allows districts to install the cameras to identify and fine drivers who fail to yield.
If the school board wants to keep the cameras, the majority of each $349 ticket would go back to the school district, which would allow the district to pay for the system.
“We are equipping three of our most problematic school routes with the Student Guardian technology, at no cost and no obligation, to test until the end of the school year,” said Jay Rowell, assistant superintendent of operations and human resources. “We want to quantify the frequency and severity of stop arm violations and evaluate the system for future implementation.”
If the board approves of the system, only 10 percent of the district’s fleet would be equipped with the cameras.
Kolack said the system would cost about $80,000 per bus, including administrative costs. He said the chain of custody with their cameras is secure – the photos are encrypted before they are sent to Redflex’s office in Arizona and before they are sent to local law enforcement in order to present evidence in court.
“It’s more than we could afford right now,” Marsh said of the cost.
But Marsh and Kolack agreed the funds received from the tickets are not the reason the district is testing the system. They hope once word gets around, drivers will pay more attention to the school buses.
“When you see the blinking lights, you need