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Local school districts consider benefits, costs of cameras on buses

Published: Friday, Jan. 10, 2014 10:52 p.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014 12:34 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Rob Winner – rwinner@shawmedia.com)
A line of cars wait as a bus stops to drop off a child Friday on Route 23 just north of Whipple Road in Sycamore. A new law that took effect this month allows school districts to install video cameras on buses to catch vehicles that pass stopped buses while dropping off or picking up students.

DeKALB – Local school bus drivers have complained for years about people driving past school buses while they are picking up or dropping off children, DeKalb police Lt. James McDougall said.

DeKalb police have taken note. Next week, DeKalb residential officer Jared Burke will ride on DeKalb school buses on the lookout for violators of the law and potentially cite them. Often, bus drivers are not able to identify drivers who break the law while they are supervising children.

“We ask [bus] drivers to get the license plate and color of the car, as much information as they can,” McDougall said. “Their comment back to us is, ‘We’re watching the children. We don’t have enough time to do that.’ ”

The planned ride-alongs are one way officials are being proactive about the issue, but a new law that took effect this month also allows school districts to install video cameras on buses to catch offenders. The law allows for the installation of cameras on school buses to record images of vehicles that pass the bus while it is stopped to drop off or pick up students.

In Illinois, drivers who pass a stopped school bus with the stop arm extended face a $150 fine and three-month suspension of their license for the first offense. They can be fined $500 with a one-year suspension if they commit a second offense within five years.

However, as with red-light cameras already in use in some communities, the violations captured by bus cameras would not be considered moving violations. Fines would be the same, but they would be administered as civil penalties against the registered owner of the vehicle. The school district and municipality or county administering the program would share in the proceeds from the fines.

The law requires that law enforcement officers or certified technicians review the video to determine if a violation occurred.

Although the cameras will be another tool for catching violators, local school officials said they aren’t investing in them just yet.

Kreg Wesley, director of operations in Sycamore School District 427, said the district is not in the best financial state to spend money on something so new.

District 427 has 43 buses that already are equipped with interior cameras that record activity inside the bus. Those cost the district about $2,000 apiece, Wesley said.

“Right now, our budgets are tight,” he said. “Are you going to buy a camera for a school bus, buy a textbook, buy a computer or hire a teacher?”

Wesley attended a webinar last fall in which members of a bus surveillance system company called Seon said the camera technology would be able to identify cars going as fast as 35 mph.

But Wesley still has some questions, including about how weather-resistant the technology would be given that it would be installed outside the bus.

Kathy Countryman, superintendent of District 427, said at this point, the district is not interested in installing the exterior cameras because of budget concerns, but she doesn’t rule out installing them indefinitely.

“If there was a certain route or if we had a number of incidents, we’d look into that,” Countryman said. “The board has been very diligent in keeping the safety of the students first.”

Andrea Gorla, assistant superintendent for DeKalb School District 428, said district officials will discuss whether to install exterior cameras on its roughly 75 buses within the next few weeks.

She said the district would prioritize other features on buses, such as improving the interior cameras or installing a tracking mechanism in which students would swipe their ID cards to track when they board and exit the bus.

McDougall said the DeKalb police handle stop-bar violations weekly. He supports districts installing the cameras.

“Anything that can help,” he said. “For one child to get hit would be tragic.”

School bus cameras

A new state law allows school districts to install cameras to catch people who illegally pass stopped school buses; local officials say they’re not buying in just yet. 

When bus drivers see someone driving past the stop bar illegally, they report it through a radio and communicate with local law enforcement with a description of the vehicle.

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