Seattle motorists who illegally pass stopped school buses face a $419 fine after the local school district entered an agreement with American Traffic Solutions and King County to videotape, verify and cite offenders.
The School Bus Stop Arm Safety Camera Program is authorized by a Washington state law that passed in 2011 to enforce an existing statute that motorists come to a complete stop when approaching a school bus that is loading or unloading students with its red lights flashing and stop paddle extend. The Seattle Public Schools board approved the program in July, and ATS installed high-resolution, stop-arm video cameras on 120 of 379 First Student school buses that the contractor operates for the district.
Warning letters were sent starting Sept. 18 to motorists caught on video illegally passing school buses with their red lights flashing and stop arm deployed.
Starting Monday, law enforcement throughout the county begin issuing actual tickets based upon review of video incidents and confirmation that a violation took place. The ATS system automatically detects if a vehicle passes the stopped school bus when its red lights are flashing and stop arm is extended. The cameras capture images and video showing the violating vehicle and license plate as it passes the school bus and stop arm.
The violation data and images are then wirelessly uploaded to ATS for processing and notice issuance. The King County Sheriff’s Office performs a final review of the violation image and video to either approve or reject the violation. The former triggers a citation sent the vehicle owner.
The interlocal contract between Seattle Public Schools, ATS and King County is valid for one year and can be renewed annually. Per a school board memo in June explaining the project, King County law enforcement pay ATS a $69 service fee for each confirmed violation.
In addition to installing and maintaining the video systems, ATS is responsible for training, communication and data transfer, violation review, and GPS mapping. The company also provides evidence to the court, including when a motorist challenges a citation, as well as prints and mails warning letters and citations, maintains a website that provides information to stop-arm violators and assists with a local public awareness program.
ATS and Seattle Public Schools conducted a pilot program last September through this past March. Stop-arm video cameras installed on 10 school buses recorded 595 vehicles passing illegally.
The school board estimated an expected revenue of $2.5 million if every violator pays their ticket, with program expenses including ATS’ service fee, fees paid to the King County Sheriff’s Office, King’s County Prosecutor’s Office and the court system totaling over $1.1 million. The remaining $1.4 million would be allocated for the school district transportation departments School Zone Safety program.
Similar stop-arm enforcement programs are already in place in several other Seattle-area districts, including Marysville, Highline, Bethel, and Mercer Island school districts.