Cameras capture drivers who don't stop for school buses

Drivers who pass a stopped school bus in Cobb County will soon risk getting caught on video.

The county has armed 102 school buses with digital video cameras that can capture the tag information of drivers who ignore the law that requires them to halt near a stopped bus when it is loading or unloading children. That's when school buses erect their stop sign arms ordering motorists to stop.

"If you're in Cobb County, don't pass a bus because it could be equipped with a camera," said Michael Warner, associate director of fleet maintenance for Cobb schools.

The county outfitted the buses after Georgia law was amended this year to allow the use of video recordings in lieu of written statements by bus drivers. Previously, violators could only be fined if police caught them or if bus drivers wrote down a tag number, vehicle description and time and place of the incident. Now, motorists can be fined based solely on the recordings.

Nearly 10 percent of the district's 1,188 buses will have the cameras, which cost $200 each and patch into a system of internal cameras used to monitor behavior inside buses.

Fines start at $300 for a first offense and rise to $1,000 for a third offense in five years. The school system predicts the fines will cover the cost.

"Nobody's here to make money," said James Arrowood, director of public safety for the school system. "It's to hopefully prevent people from running school bus stop arms."

The school system estimates that about 1,000 violations occur per day, or nearly one violation for each bus the district has on the road.

Officials with Fayette County schools say they also use such cameras, and Fulton school officials say they are considering them. Other major metro Atlanta school systems, such as Cherokee, Clayton, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties, do not use them.

The initiative started with two parents. Mandi Call and Sheri Lewis lived in the same neighborhood as Karla Campos, a 5-year-old Cobb girl who was killed in 2009 by a driver who ran past a stopped bus.

"When that little girl was killed, Mandi and I looked at each other and said we need to do something about this," Lewis said.

The duo did some research and discovered that other states allowed fines based on video recordings. They lobbied the Georgia General Assembly in 2010, but failed to get a law passed. Finally, this year, they succeeded, with the help of Rep. Don Parsons, R-Marietta, who wrote the legislation that was adopted as Senate Bill 57.

Arrowood said he expects more fines because the court cases won't rest on the sometimes faulty memory of bus drivers. Now, they'll just have to push a button to mark the spot on the continuous videos, so the incident can later be downloaded and sent to the courts.

"Drivers want to be focused on driving," Arrowood said, "not having to be worrying about tag numbers."