Cobb school board OKs bus camera plan

Cobb County's school board unanimously voted Thursday to allow an Arizona-based company to issue $300 citations to motorists they film driving around stopped school buses.

The company, American Traffic Solutions, will use images from more than 100 cameras the school system will install on school buses to catch the impatient or distracted drivers.

"We're very happy to see this initiative move forward," said Mandi Call, a Cobb County parent who helped spur the initiative. "The bottom line for us is the safety of the children. That's always what it's been about for us."

The new contract will allow American Traffic Solutions to keep up to 75 percent of generated revenue from the citations issued; the company will absorb the cost of the cameras.

Cobb police and the school system will split the rest of the generated revenue for administrative costs. Before mailing a citation, American Traffic Solutions will send the video and an image to Cobb police to confirm that there has been a violation.

Dan Baskerville, a lawyer for Xerox, complained to board members that the contract wasn't put out to bid.

"I find it unusual that there's only one source product being used when there are other vendors that have the same services," Baskerville said.

Administrators said that wasn't necessary because the cameras that will be used have to work with cameras already installed to film students on the inside of buses. Those cameras, on 800 of the district's buses, are operated by a sister company of American Traffic Solutions.

A law was passed in 2011 that allowed school systems to install cameras on the outside of their buses to catch motorists who pass stopped buses, but it didn't allow the district or outside vendors to issue citations. At that point, only police could issue them.

A Cobb pilot program last year, using cameras installed on 102 of the 1,188 buses, caught 871 violators of the law. But because of limits in the law, only warnings were issued that carried no weight.

An amendment to the law last year allowed outside vendors to issue citations.

The new program in Cobb will install better cameras on those buses this school year and operate similar to red light cameras. The buses that travel in the highest traffic areas and get the most complaints from bus drivers will get the cameras.

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