American Traffic Solutions has issued 258 citations in the last month to drivers who have been caught on camera driving around Cobb school buses when the stop arm is out.
Drivers are fined $300 for the first citation, $750 for a second, and $1,000 for a third violation caught on camera.
School district staff say the cameras are making a difference.
“Bus drivers really feel like the cameras and awareness have deterred and educated the motorists of our safety and the dangers that were involved in them passing our buses,” said Connie Cristy, the district’s transportation field coordinator.
Of Cobb Schools’ 1,202 buses, just 102 of them are equipped with the camera system.
Two years ago, the school district began installing an initial camera on 102 buses at a cost of $200 each. In September, an Arizona company, American Traffic Solutions, paid to install six additional cameras on each of the 102 buses.
ATS keeps 75 percent of the ticket revenue in the first year of the program, and lesser percentages thereafter. The balance is split between the county government and the county school district.
All seven cameras are on the driver’s side of the bus.
Two cameras, one toward the front wheels of the bus and another near the back wheels, record possible violations on video. A large yellow box in the middle of the bus holds five individual cameras that read license plates.
After a possible violation is recorded, the footage is sent to ATS electronically when the bus passes a cell tower.
If ATS employees believe a violation has occurred, they send the information to Cobb Police for review.
Cobb Police Lt. Hawk Hagebak said the cameras have been activated by possible violations 3,640 times. The 32 officers in his unit each spend about an hour per day confirming a violation and matching the tag number with the make and model of the vehicle.
Officers also may discard cases whether they don’t think the driver broke the law.
“We still enjoy discretion in these things,” Hagebak said. “We want people to stop, but we don’t want people to crash into the bus. If they are driving next to the bus and the stop arm comes out, this camera is going to detect that, but this department is going to notice where they were in relation to the stop arm.”
If an officer determines that the driver broke the law, they sign off on the violation, and ATS sends a ticket on behalf of Cobb Police to the driver.
The ticket, which is considered a civil offense because it is not written by an officer who saw the violation in person, ranges from $300 to $1,000.
Drivers can view footage of the offense online as well.
If seen in person by an officer, the stop arm violation is a criminal offense and the driver can be fined up to $1,000 and get six points on their license. Anyone 21 and younger will have their license suspended.
Drivers have 30 days to pay the ticket online or by mail.
If the owner was not driving the vehicle when the violation occurred, they can sign an affidavit identifying the driver, and then ATS can send that driver a violation notice, Hagebak said.
The cameras should decrease violations even around buses that don’t have them installed, he said.
“We’ll see probably a drop in the number of violations witnessed by officers,” he said. “That should drop because people are more aware of stop arms now.”
Hagebak couldn’t confirm that officers have written fewer tickets since they launched the program with ATS a month ago.
“I can tell you that our enforcement has gone way up with the use of this system,” he said. “In the past … that person has to be foolish enough to run the stop arm in front of a marked police officer, so we only wrote the tickets to the bad, bad drivers.”
But the additional enforcement has cut reported violations by nearly half.
Two years ago, bus drivers reported seeing 1,600 violations a day. Now, they see around 900.
“Our goal is to get to zero, and we’ve really, really knocked it down,” Grisham said. “We’re real pleased with it.”
Grisham said state education officials have come to them for advice on the use of stop-arm cameras.
“Counties with other multiple jurisdictions like Cobb are going to be able to get on our coattails and just follow what we’ve done,” he said.
Grisham insists the cameras are not a moneymaker for the school system. The school district, he said, just wants drivers to obey the law.
“They get the majority of the revenue that’s coming in,” he said about ATS. “The thing is the safety and education piece. No labor, no driver distraction, no cost to the district at all.”
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