Additionally, the district is struggling with technological problems with newly installed bus stop arm cameras and recording equipment.
“Everyone is trying to figure out how to do this,” said Rick Grisham, the district’s transportation director. “We’ve been a lot more aggressive. Cobb County is probably one of the first to take a stand on getting this cut down and hopefully be a leader on this.”
In August, the Cobb County School District installed 102 cameras on school buses to capture video of drivers passing a school bus while the stop arm is down under the new law.
James Arrowood, the district’s director of public safety, said he is working with county and district attorneys to figure out how violations will be processed at the Cobb County Solicitor General’s office. Solicitor General Barry Morgan said the new law does not give his office the authority to handle the cases, so the school system must work out the issue of who handles the cases with the county government first.
“Right now, we’re having to make sure we’re following the proper procedures,” Arrowood said. “We’re moving with the deliberate speed. Anytime you’re dealing with laws and legalities, you like to have it all ironed out and make sure you proceed correctly before you do stuff, so we have to be patient.”
Chris Ragsdale, the district’s technology director, said bus drivers were required to fill out a detailed form to send to the county police department under the “old process” of citing drivers violating the stop arm law. Under the new process, videos taken by the new cameras would be submitted rather than the time-consuming forms, Ragsdale said.
Arrowood said he anticipates the procedures to be ironed out by January.
Technological issues have also arisen with the cameras.
Ragsdale said the cameras were installed at an angle that did not allow them to capture drivers’ license plate numbers. Ragsdale said they have adjusted the cameras on the buses to capture license plates better and improve the range. Initially, the cameras could not capture the license plates on vehicles two lanes away.
Ragsdale also said field techs have to board each bus to remove the bus’ hard drive to retrieve the data.
“We’ve asked the company (AngelTrax out of Dothan, Ala.) to make a modification so that they can electronically deliver the information from the camera to the computer without having to physically remove data from the bus’ hard drive,” Ragsdale said. “We should be able to pilot that new transmittal method sometime this October. There are no additional fees with that.”
Sheri Lewis, one of two mothers who helped get the ball rolling on the Stop Arm Camera law in 2010, said she still sees people illegally pass school buses in her Cobb neighborhood.
“Four out of five days the first week of school, they passed the stop arm,” Lewis said Tuesday. “(The driver) now has the camera and this morning and afternoon, they still passed her bus. She’s still able to document this and turn these people in, which makes me feel a little better. It’s just terrifying.”
“Unfortunately, there isn’t enough law enforcement to be at every (school bus) stop,” she said. “So hopefully the camera can be their eyes and help them stop this.”
On July 1, a new section of Senate Bill 57, also called the Stop Arm Camera Law, went into effect, allowing school districts to install cameras on buses’ stop arms.
The stop arm cameras cost approximately $200 each and were purchased with SPLOST III funds. Grisham said he would consider ways to purchase additional cameras once they have worked out negotiations with the county, adding that he would like to see cameras installed on at least half of the district’s fleet within the next three years.
The Cobb County School District currently runs 1,188 buses throughout the county, commuting students to and from their destinations. A new bus with a stop arm camera installed costs approximately $81,600.
Grisham said 14 violations have been turned in to the Cobb County Police Department this school year. In previous years, drivers reported an average of one or two violations per day, Grisham said.
If found guilty of violating the school bus law, a driver can face up to $1,000 in fines and receive six points on their license. Anyone under 21 would automatically lose their license.