Cameras on Bloomington school buses pointed at bad drivers

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The Bloomington school district is outfitting its buses with security cameras – not to catch misbehaving students, but to capture bad drivers, KSTP reports.

Safety officials say the four-camera systems, which come at a cost of about $1,000 per bus, capture license plate numbers and even drivers' faces when motorists break laws around the bus and endanger students. The cameras are also a big help to drivers, who previously have had to scramble for a piece of paper to write down license plate numbers, diverting their attention from driving and students.

The district experimented with the cameras last year – when a stop-arm violation occurred, video of the incident was sent to Bloomington police, and drivers were ticketed. In a nine-month trial, Bloomington issued 340 tickets, KARE 11 reports.

“We want our students to arrive at school safely and to be delivered home safely,” Superintendent Les Fujitake says.

Troubling numbers

Minnesota law requires drivers to remain stopped at least 20 feet from a school bus when its stop sign is out and red lights are flashing, but motorists routinely break the law.

About 25 million students nationwide board about 480,000 school buses each day, and given those stats, the number of students who are killed getting on and off buses may seems relatively low: about four each year, according to NHTSA data.

Still, the number of near-misses that bus drivers witness every day is staggering, school officials say.

The Bloomington district says there are an "alarming" number of driving violations around buses with stop lights flashing and stop arms dropped – each driver sees an average of 30 violations a month.

This report notes that in a study in Champlin and Brooklyn Park, there were 140 violations in just one week. A one-day Minnesota state trooper study noted 530 violations, the report says:

But the numbers are likely far higher. A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report noted studies found more than 10,000 violations in Florida on a single day, and nearly 3,400 in Virginia on a single day.

The problem

Bloomington has added its cameras in the wake of several high-profile incidents, including that of an Apple Valley semi truck driver who was charged after investigators said he nearly hit a student near Hawick in central Minnesota last spring. A camera captured the truck passing the bus – on the right – where a student was waiting to board:

The West Virginia Department of Education memorably posted a video to YouTube two years ago that has been widely shared, showing three cars blatantly ignoring a stopped bus – and a student who narrowly misses being hit:

School bus drivers note the moment school bus doors open, kids often scramble off quickly, not pausing to take a good look at traffic.

But the NHTSA report sums up the bigger issues: Drivers nationwide are not following stop-arm laws, incidents are going under-reported and laws are not being adequately enforced.

That's where camera manufacturers have stepped in. They have seized on growing parent and district official concerns, and they are making more sophisticated systems to catch driver violations – a "robust solution for detecting and enforcing these dangerous violations which threaten the safety of our children," one manufacturer boasts.

A number of districts nationwide are installing the cameras on school buses this year, from Seattle to North Carolina.

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