New bus cameras help catch ‘red-light runners’

 This car was caught illegally passing Lake Forest School District bus 40 in Felton on Oct. 22, 2015. Transportation Supervisor John Barr hopes to be able to prosecute more “red-light runners” with the installation of eight new camera systems on district buses. Submitted to The Journal

This car was caught illegally passing Lake Forest School District bus 40 in Felton on Oct. 22, 2015. Transportation Supervisor John Barr hopes to be able to prosecute more “red-light runners” with the installation of eight new camera systems on district buses. Submitted to The Journal

FELTON — Janet Carroll says she finally encountered a first after driving school buses for 20 years.

“The red lights were on and someone passed me on the right side as I had a student stepping off into the road. It scared me to death. The child just barely got missed,” she recalled.

According to Delaware Department of Education Director of Pupil Transportation Services Ron Love, it’s rare for someone to pass on the right, but 19 motorists did just that last school year in Delaware.

In Delaware alone, buses were illegally passed more than 700 times during the 2014-2015 school year, according to Mr. Love. Lake Forest School District Transportation Supervisor John Barr said he is hoping to catch more “red-light runners” in the act with new cameras now affixed to eight of the buses that transport students to and from district schools.

The camera system allows him to verify with timestamped images that the red-lights and the stop arms were activated when someone passes the bus illegally.

Buses are also equipped with GPS technology which allows for further verification of the whereabouts of each bus, according to Mr. Barr.

Penalties for driving past a school bus when the stop arm is out is steep, he added, with fines of no less than $115-$230, up to 60 days in jail and license suspension.

school_bus_poster_1b“Eventually, my goal is to make sure that all of our buses are equipped with these systems. It’s a small cost that we incur as a district, but it’s nothing compared to the life of a child,” he said.

The district has not yet found grants specifically for the purpose of suiting up the buses with the cam eras that can cost roughly $2,800 per bus for a full installation.

“Red-light runners,” as he calls them, are not the only driving violation bus drivers are concerned with on a weekly basis in the Lake Forest School District.

“Roughly, just this year, I get three or four reported concerns a week of some type of issue with drivers not following the rules. Just a few more seconds is all they had to wait. It’s starting to become the norm.”

Luckily for Mr. Barr, his drivers and the more than 2,900 students that use buses throughout the district, no injuries have been reported for the 2015-2016 school year.

Ms. Carroll hopes the state will begin using the camera systems as evidence to help catch more people who violate the driving laws regarding buses.

“A lot of times without a camera, you try to get the tag numbers. But that’s hard in a school bus. You only get one chance and they’re usually driving pretty fast. Then you have to take a day off to go to court. But this seems like clear cut cases to save some children,” she said.

Mr. Barr and Ms. Carroll both suggest motorists take their time around buses for their own safety, and the safety of the bus occupants.

“Everybody is in a hurry. But what in the world would you do if you killed a kid? You’d have to live with yourself at that point. I don’t think I could,” she said. “Give these buses space. It only takes a second out of your day and everybody’s safe. Or it only takes a second and you could kill a child.”

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