Drivers who ignore bus stops warnings in Highland will be photographed and ticketed in the not too distant future.
The Highland Community Unit District 5 school board approved the purchase or roughly $10,000 worth of additional cameras that will be affixed to the exterior of the district’s bus fleet in an effort to catch violators in the act.
After a contentious discussion last month on the purchase of additional cameras on Highland school buses, the board voted in favor of the cameras after learning the majority of the cost would be covered by the state. The cameras would be affixed to the buses in addition to three interior cameras already installed on Highland’s First Student fleet.
The cameras, which First Student will install to the buses but are the property of the district, will catch footage that may be reviewed by the Highland Police Department, who would then enforce the violation with a ticket.
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Business Manager Tim Bair said through the school district’s annual state transportation claim, 80 percent of the costs would be recovered later next year.
Bair also noted in a message to the board and Superintendent Mike Sutton that bus drivers said they encounter two to three violations per week, mostly at area highway stops or on St. Rose Road and Frank Watson Parkway.
The request for the bus cameras came after a bus driver brought up the issue to school board member Zach Lewis. In late November, he said the driver said due to the incidents throughout the country that month, the board should take action.
In a span of three days in early November, five children in different states were killed by distracted drivers while crossing streets to board the bus. In each case, the school bus had extended its “stop arm,” which in most states requires drivers to stop for children crossing the street.
In total, according to a 2015 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, less than 1 percent of roughly 325,000 fatal crashes in the U.S. from 2006 to 2015 have involved school transportation. However, reports that more than one-third, or 103, school-aged students died on foot, some even hit by the school buses themselves.
Data also shows that drivers, on average, routinely pass stopped school buses with an extended arm. During the school year, in a single day, 20 percent of drivers reported roughly 84,000 cars illegally passed their bus, according to NASDPTS’s report. The report surveyed drivers in 38 states and in the District of Columbia.
Highland Police Chief Chris Conrad said the cameras are an innovative idea he’s hoping will curb the number of drivers ignoring the signs. He said the department gets several reports of violations each year.
“In light of some of these high profile incidents that have happened at bus stops recently, it seems like a fairly inexpensive way to enforce these stop signs on the buses,” Conrad said.
Conrad said his department will review the footage when the school district submits it to the department and work to enforce ticketing from there. He said the cameras will be helpful because it can be difficult for police to catch the violations as they happen.
He said often, to try to curb violations, Highland police will use marked and unmarked cars to catch violations. He said from there the officers either enforce or educate. He said more often than not its a case where the driver doesn’t know what they’ve done is illegal.
“This is just another tool in the toolbox for keeping people safe at the bus stops,” Conrad said. “Hopefully as drivers become aware that the cameras are on the buses, we’ll have fewer and fewer incidents.”
Other Board Action
The school board also discussed and voted 4-3 against adding additional funding for a fourth full-time art teacher for the district. The board was pressed by the local art community, but the majority said there was too much risk in adding another position this year.
Next year ’s tax levy also was adopted at the meeting, as well as a resolution creating a student activity fund for high school testing.