Police say the new hidden cameras on the sides of Cobb school buses are working to keep students safer. The citations written as a result of the cameras are also generating new revenue for the county.
In a one-day test in January, Cobb School District bus drivers reported 400 drivers illegally passing the buses, said Lt. Hawk Hagebak with the Cobb Police Department’s Traffic Services Unit. That is down from 1,600 violators in a 2011 test and 900 in a one-day test last year.
“I would say it’s brought into the bright light the concern for stopping for school buses,” Hagebak said of the cameras, as well as increased education on passing stopped school buses. “Driving down the road, you don’t know if the bus has a camera or not.”
The cameras are equipped on 102 of the Cobb district’s 1,202 buses. The school district began installing a single camera on the buses in 2010 at a cost of $200 each, while Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions paid to install six additional cameras on the 102 buses last year. 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.
So far, a total of $134,059 has been raised off the tickets. Hagebak said 1,092 citations have been issued, with 435 paid through ATS. The tickets, which are all handled as civil cases, cost $300 for a first offense, $750 for a second offense and $1,000 for each additional violation for five years.
Where’s the money go?
ATS keeps 75 percent of the ticket revenue during the first year of the program, and lesser percentages thereafter. The remainder is split between the county government and the school district.
County spokesman Robert Quigley said stop-arm revenue goes to the public safety department, with specific needs determined by the department and County Manager David Hankerson.
“The program is still very new, and no decision has been made on any specific expenditures,” Quigley said.
The school district will use its revenue from the tickets toward educating students about school bus safety, said Chris Ragsdale, the Cobb School District’s deputy superintendent of operations.
Ragsdale said ATS is testing different routes to determine if more cameras need to be added to buses and what routes need them the most. But they don’t yet know whether, or how many, new ones will be added.
“It is one of those times when everybody works together — the Cobb Police Department, the school district and the third party,” he said.
The district bought its first stop-arm cameras as a reaction to the 2009 death of student Karla Campos, who was hit as she exited a bus in east Cobb. Hagebak said students who cross now are safer due to the cameras.
“By having fewer violators, it is less of a threat to our citizens we need to look out for most,” he said.