One of the few traffic laws I’m never guilty of violating is passing school buses when they’re stopped. I know how little (and big) kids run out into the street without looking or thinking about traffic, and I sure don’t want to hit anyone’s child. But there are many drivers who either don’t know or don’t care that the law says you cannot pass a stopped school bus. For that reason, the Dallas City Council recently approved a test program of placing cameras on all 1700 Dallas County School buses.
Here are excerpts from a Dallas Morning News article about the school bus cameras:
The ordinance, two years in the making, will operate much like the laws that allow for red-light cameras. Footage of the violation will be recorded and sent to law enforcement, and the vehicle’s registered driver will receive a $300 ticket in the mail.
Enforcement of the ordinance is scheduled to start at the beginning of next school year.
“This is a great day for the kids of Dallas and their safety,” said Larry Duncan, president of the Dallas County Schools board and a former City Council member.
Dallas County Schools, which operates buses for Dallas ISD and some suburban school districts, hopes to approach other municipalities to follow Dallas’ lead, Duncan added.
Dallas County Schools proposed the initiative in 2010 and installed cameras on six buses during a monthlong study.
Duncan said they found that during each bus trip, at least one driver illegally passed a stopped bus — sometimes it was as many as 10.
With 60,000 students riding 1,700 Dallas County Schools buses every day, Duncan called the study’s results “a real nightmare.”
Duncan estimated that in the first year, the program would bring in almost $11 million in fines, covering the cost to install cameras on Dallas County Schools’ fleet.
All of the revenue would go toward safety, he said, adding that the employment of crossing guards will be handled by Dallas County Schools instead of the city.
Still, if the enforcement of these automated tickets is anything like the red-light camera tickets, many violators won’t pay their fines. According to a Dallas Morning News survey from last year, nearly a third of red-light camera tickets in North Texas were never paid.
It is difficult to punish drivers who choose to throw the tickets in the trash because they face a civil penalty, not a criminal one. They need not fear an arrest warrant or having the ticket show up on their driving record. However, they might, depending on the municipality, have a collection agency call to demand payment.
But even if the tickets go unpaid, several studies in Texas have shown that red-light cameras can be beneficial to public safety.
The Texas Transportation Institute, part of Texas A&M University, released a report in August showing that in two years, red-light-related crashes across the state dropped by about 27 percent compared with the two years before the cameras were installed.
Duncan said the boost in safety that will result from the bus cameras far outweighs the issue of uncollected revenue.
“I anticipate that we have to work at enforcement, but I do think it will improve over time,” Duncan said. “But because it involves our kids, I think safety’s much more important.”