Cameras on Austin school buses will spot drivers who pass illegally

Austin school buses will soon start recording drivers who pass them illegally.

The school board is contracting with Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions to install cameras on about 300 buses, roughly 60 percent of the fleet. The cameras, which are installed near the stop arms of the buses, start rolling once the bus stops. After a review by Austin school district police, any drivers recorded passing stopped buses will receive a $300 ticket in the mail.

Last year, a pilot program the district conducted from April to December found that drivers passed stopped school buses 2,500 times.

Since 2010, two Austin students have been hit by cars while getting on or off a school bus.

“The No. 1 priority is our student safety,” the district’s transportation director, Kris Hafezizadeh, said. “Unfortunately, nationwide it is a school bus transportation issue that motorists pass school buses while loading and unloading. Our police officer can’t be at all intersections at all times.”

Hafezizadeh hopes to have the cameras installed within a year.

The Austin school district isn’t paying American Traffic Solutions anything for installing the cameras. The district will give 60 percent of the ticket revenues to American Traffic Solutions, and the district will keep the rest. Hafezizadeh said that the proportions could change, depending on the number of systems installed and whether the district or the vendor will perform certain related services.

The Georgetown school district and city also work with American Traffic Solutions. The city and school district split about 24 percent of the total revenue, and the rest goes to the vendor. Since starting the bus camera program April 2014, 233 citations have been issued, but only 144 of them have been paid; as a result, the city and district have each generated about $5,200 in revenue over the last 18 months.

The Elgin, San Marcos and Eanes school districts also have similar camera-enforcement programs.

Some drivers have complained about the accuracy of the cameras and the fairness of the adjudication process when people want to contest tickets. In San Marcos, drivers contest a camera-enforced ticket with the school bus camera vendor, who makes most of the profit from the tickets. Drivers can appeal the vendor’s decision to a municipal court judge, but they rarely do.

The Austin school district said that it is still figuring out the appeals process but promises it will be fair.

State law requires drivers traveling in either direction to stop when approaching a stopped schoolbus that has flashing lights or its stop arm extended. If lanes are separated by a barrier such as a concrete median, drivers going in the opposite direction don’t have to stop.

Drivers who violate the law can be charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $1,250.

The tickets issued through the Austin camera program will be civil offenses and won’t show up on a driver’s record.

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