Montgomery County school bus cameras coming up for vote

A school bus camera captures a van cruising by while the stop sign arm is deployed. (Photo: Surveillance video)

Almost every weekday between August and June, school buses, packed with kids making their way to and from school, make their way through neighborhoods and on major roads throughout the D.C. area.

However, authorities in multiple jurisdictions have seen a marked increase in a trend that they're going to great lengths to curtail - drivers who have no idea what to do when a school bus flashes its lights and displays stop signs.

"I would say it's a 50-50 split between not paying attention and (being) just totally oblivious to the law," Montgomery County Police Officer Michael Kane says.

Since in many areas, a police officer has to personally witness a violation near a school bus to write a ticket, enforcement has been difficult. However, Montgomery County and other areas are now considering deploying exterior cameras on buses to help track down offenders.

7,000 violations in one day

The move comes after a spike in violations; in fact, on a single day in 2011, the Maryland Department of Education witnessed 7,000 moving violations near school buses across the state. A ticket for passing a school bus with its stop arm down in Maryland costs anywhere between $250 and $570, along with three points on the driver's record.

Even though Frederick County Schools have had cameras installed on buses for months, the county is just now beginning to issue tickets. The system was the first in Maryland to purchase and install the cameras.

"We're trying to save kids," Veronica Lowe, the school system's Director of Transportation, said, adding that installing cameras isn't about making money.

"My hope is that eventually we will have no violators, but reality is that's probably not going to happen," she added. "It's definitely going to decrease the number of violations."

While Frederick County is working with a new vendor to update and improve its bus camera system, the Montgomery County Council is scheduled to vote on March 6 on a bus camera system of their own.