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School buses 'busted' - Drivers caught on camera speeding, running red lights

A local school bus caught on camera running a red light. (WJLA photo)

WASHINGTON (WJLA) – You trust them to safely transport your kids to and from school, but not every bus driver is obeying the law. The 7 On Your Side I-Team found local school bus drivers busted on camera speeding and running through red lights. And it happens more than you think, with hundreds of citations issued over the last year and a half.

Camera videos obtained by the 7 On Your Side I-Team show local bus drivers blowing through red, never touching the brakes. We spotted near misses as drivers made left turns on red. And the videos highlighted it all, with buses spotted running red lights at night, during the day, in the snow, the rain and even with a police officer watching.

The videos we found were surprising to people like Lea Farrell of Prince George’s County. She said, “It’s really shocking to see that.”

We showed Farrell and others the stack of tickets that helped us find those tickets. Local school districts, including Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, have racked up hundreds of them in the last year and a half, thanks to red-light and speed cameras.

“Obviously, if you've got all this proof, this is a real problem,” Montgomery County mom Susan Long said. “I don't think a lot of people know about this.”

In fact, many people are unaware that local drivers have been caught breaking the law—with the proof sent directly to their employers. Speed camera citations obtained by ABC7 show drivers caught speeding 15, 16, even as many as 18 miles per hour over the limit. Some were even snapped speeding in school zones.

Montgomery County mom Amy Morantes said, “It's a huge vehicle with a lot of kids, so you'd think they'd drive a little slower.”

Todd Watkins, the director of transportation for Montgomery County Public Schools, agrees. He told ABC7, “In our book, any citation is too many. We wish we had none.”

Montgomery County school bus drivers received 100 speed and red-light camera tickets in the last year and a half. Watkins says that boils down to one red light ticket for every 475,000 miles driven by district drivers. He considers that low rate an indication that the district’s children are in good hands.

“Despite the stack of tickets in your hand, they're much safer in one of our buses statistically by far than they are even their parents’ cars,” Watkins said.

Parents weren’t happy to see bad behavior caught on camera. Citation videos show a Prince George’s County bus that was nailed three times in three weeks at the same intersection, making the same turn without stopping.

Andre Clark, a Suitland, Md. father of five, wondered, “They have to pay, right?”

But we found a stack of tickets that went unpaid for years. In Prince George’s County, which had 249 camera citations in the same timeframe, bus drivers were supposed to pay. But we found many didn’t.

Mark Dreszer, garage operations supervisor with Prince George’s County Public Schools, told ABC7, “We had some that fell through the cracks.”

The 7 On Your Side I-Team found dozens of overdue notices, collections letters and even bus registrations flagged when drivers didn’t pay the fines.

“Did we chase down drivers in the past? Yes,” Dreszer said. “Were we always successful? No. Is that a problem today? No, it is not.”

That district implemented a new procedure to make citation payments automatic for bus drivers. Now, the district follows the same model as Montgomery County, paying the fine upfront, with drivers paying back the cost either through a check or a payroll deduction.

Dreszer said, “I think we've fixed it. I think we've fixed it.”

The payment problem has been repaired, but that hasn’t stopped the problem, because buses still get pegged. That’s why under the same new procedure, Prince George’s County Public Schools clearly outlined disciplinary actions for bus drivers who receive camera citations. Under that district’s plan, drivers get a written letter of reprimand upon receipt of their first ticket. The discipline escalates from there, with a second citation resulting in a one-day suspension without pay. A second citation will land a driver on suspension for three unpaid days. If they receive a fourth ticket in the same rolling calendar year, the driver will get a 10-day suspension without pay.

Termination is an option, according to Prince George’s County’s records. But drivers would have to receive five citations within the same calendar year or exceed the posted speed limit by more than 30 miles per hour. School system spokeswoman Sherrie Johnson says there have been no terminations as a result of camera citations and the new district policy.

But Montgomery County says it has cut drivers as a result of bad driving behavior. Todd Watkins says the district has terminated as many as a dozen drivers in the last two school years. Those terminations came after a review of camera citations, as well as preventable accident data.

Watkins said the district’s 1,270 school buses drive approximately 100,000 miles per day. And he emphasized safety is always their focus: “All of us, as drivers, should know better. But when you put yourself on the level of professional driver, who is transporting other peoples’ children, then you set a much higher standard for yourself.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Dreszer, who said, “The safety of our children is paramount.”

Below are examples of some of the many citations ABC7 News reviewed for this investigative report...

School Bus Citations

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