Studies show that surveillance cameras can help reduce crime in some cases. Police have had some success. But will stop-arm cameras and the enforcement of the stop-arm law reduce the amount of stop-arm violations? The jury is still out, but if you are considering adding the technology, this is one of the important questions that should be asked.
Will Cameras Actually Reduce the Amount of Stop-Arm Violations?
In general, stop-arm violators can be categorized into three different groups: the impatient violator, the uneducated violator and the distracted violator. Using cameras to prosecute violators and educating the motoring public about the stop-arm law will mitigate the amount of violations from all three categories of violators.
- The Impatient Violator – Using cameras to enforce the stop-arm law will reduce the number of violations from this category if and only if the impatient drivers are made aware that cameras will be used to enforce the law. A percentage of impatient drivers will think twice about passing that stopped school bus if they know there is a chance of being caught, and if they know there will be a stiff civil penalty to accompany the violation. As it stands now in South Carolina, motorists know there is a minuscule chance they'll be caught because a police officer must witness the offense. A reduction in the amount of violations from this group due to the use of cameras could SAVE a child's life.
- The Distracted Violator – Using cameras to enforce the stop-arm law may have less of an effect on this group of violators. If the driver is distracted, they may not even see the bus; therefore, they would not think about the penalties for passing the stopped bus. However, the use of cameras for this group of violators does hold them accountable for their behavior. This accountability could potentially entice them to leave the distraction behind the next time they are behind the wheel. A reduction in the amount of violations from this group due to the use of cameras could SAVE a child's life.
- The Uneducated Violator – Many motorists do not know when to stop for a stopped school bus. In South Carolina, motorists are not required to stop on a multi-lane road when approaching the bus from the opposite direction. Motorists are required to stop when approaching the bus from the opposite direction on a two-lane road. Motorists must always stop when approaching the stopped bus from behind. These simple laws should be taught in driver's education courses and should also be a part of the test required to obtain a driver's license. Public Service Announcements (PSA's) can also help educate motorists about the law and the dangers of passing a stopped school bus. Education would also play an important role in notifying the motoring public that cameras can be used to enforce the law. The cameras would be useless if the public did not know about them and if the images were not used in prosecution.
Will Enforcing the Stop-Arm Law Reduce the Amount of Violations? Does Enforcement Make a Difference?
Take a look at these stats and articles relating to the efficacy of enforcing seat belt and drunk driving laws. According to the National Safety Council, the percentage of motorists who use their seat belt has steadily been on the rise in America. In 2009, 88 percent of Americans wore seat belts as opposed to the 69 percent who did in 1998. To what do we attribute the increased percentage of seat-belt users? Education and enforcement are two prime explanations.
Many educational commercials and safety campaigns have been created over the past 15 years to advocate for the use of seat belts. Educating the motoring public about the dangers of not wearing a seatbelt has resulted in an increased amount of seat belt users.
Enforcement is also a major reason for the increased use of seat belts. According to the National Safety Council, the percentage of seat belt users is 13 percent higher in states that have "primary" enforcement laws over those states that have "secondary" enforcement laws. Primary enforcement laws enable a law enforcement officer to pull over and ticket a motorist or passenger for the sole reason of not wearing a seat belt. Secondary enforcement laws require a law enforcement official to have other "cause" to pull a vehicle over, then a seat belt ticket can be issued.
Primary enforcement makes the seat belt law more enforceable. Stop-arm cameras will make the stop-arm law more enforceable, which will mitigate the amount of violations.
Similarly, drunken driving fatalities have decreased dramatically over the years. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drunk driving fatalities per 100,000 in population have decreased 49 percent from 1991 to 2011. The rate in 2011 was down 3.2 percent from 6.3 percent in 1991. Here again, education and enforcement have increased.
Educational advertisements (billboards, commercials, etc.) have played a major role in educating the motoring public about the dangers of drunken driving. The penalties for getting caught behind the wheel and over the legal limit are much stiffer today than they were in 1991. South Carolina, as well as many other states, has stepped up enforcement measures for drunken driving. Enforcement campaigns such as "Sober or Slammer" and "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" have resulted in more motorists being arrested for drunken driving.
Increased enforcement efforts have played a major role in the reduction of drunken driving fatalities in America. Using cameras in enforcement efforts will also reduce the amount of stop-arm violations.
In closing, several arguments have been made to demonstrate that the use of stop-arm cameras will reduce the amount of stop-arm violations. According to the Homeland Security News Wire, a reduction in crime can be expected if surveillance cameras are in place and if the public believes that law enforcement is using the footage for prosecution. A considerable number of would-be stop-arm violators will think again before passing that stopped yellow school bus if they are educated about the use of stop-arm cameras and about the dangers passing a stopped bus presents. Education and Enforcement will save lives.
David Poag is the co-founder of the Stop Arm Violations Education and Enforcement (S.A.V.E.) Campaign that advocates laws in South Carolina that allow for the surveillance cameras on school buses and district-municipal agreements to prosecute offenders while also attempting to educate motorists to stop during loading and unloading laws.