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School Bus Cameras Watching Drivers

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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Bud Gillett
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DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – Motorists in the City of Dallas who drive through school bus stop-arm warnings will soon have to dig into their pockets to pay for the infraction. A new city ordinance makes it a $300 civil fine.

But the more important issue is keeping students from harm. “It’s the safety of the kids,” said John Luster, who has driven school buses for seven years. Drivers are supposed to stop when he pulls out the stop-arm, but many, he said, just do not. “A lot of people are in too big a hurry to stop. They say they’re too busy to stop. I think it’s a tremendous idea and it should’ve been happening a long time ago.”

The “it” is the new array of cameras on buses operating in Dallas by the Dallas County Schools. There are at least four and sometimes as many as six cameras on each bus; half of them facing forward, half of them facing to the rear. When the stop-arms come up, the cameras turn on. And what a story they capture.

On average, once a day per bus, somebody blows through the stop-arm that’s extended when kids get off. In an extreme case shown to CBS 11 News, eight cars ignore the command.

But beginning in late August with this new school year, those images are reviewed by the newly-formed Dallas County Schools Police Department. Licensed peace officers decide if a car runs the signal. If so, under a new Dallas city ordinance, the driver faces a $300 civil penalty.

While all vehicles going in the same direction as a stopped school bus with flashing lights must also stop, for oncoming traffic the situation is different. If there is a divided street or road with a center median, approaching traffic in the other lanes are not required to stop.

New police chief Scott Peters explained, “Officers are trained on laws, traffic laws, and they’re making a determination based on what they’re watching on the video.”

The five-person department will eventually expand to 13. Peters said it’s important for police to make the assessment of a violation. “It adds credibility to the citation for the school district and citizens knowing that it’s not just some random person taking a grudge, it’s an officer.”

The district transports 60,000 students countywide on nearly 1,700 buses. Of those buses, 875 are operated in the Dallas city limits, where the ordinance applies.

DCS President Larry Duncan claimed, on average, there are 875 violations every day, one for each bus operated in Dallas. “We’ve got to get across to the public when the school bus stops, you stop,” he said, adding, “Nothing is more important than the safety of our children. We’re going the extra mile with these cameras.”

Fines will pay for the new police department and for school crossing guards in Dallas, a budget of $11.2 million. Right now they’re sending out only warnings; actual fines will be issued beginning October 1.

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