INDIANAPOLIS – A Monday panel at STN EXPO Indianapolis examined ways to increase student safety on the school bus and at bus stops by utilizing onboard and stop-arm video camera technology.
In 2022, 41 million drivers illegally passed school buses across the country, according to a survey conducted by the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS). Melba Rivera-Irizarry, global director of mobility programs for stop-arm camera solution provider Verra Mobility, said that technology can aid pupil transporters and law enforcement who are fighting this trend. She shared that the company’s data indicates that 99 percent of motorists who were issued a violation and paid the fine did not reoffend.
Township High School District 211 in Illinois has about 200 buses and vans that are used to transport 9,000 students daily. The district uses interior cameras and dash-cams to capture views of students and stop-arm violators.
“[The camera technology] tells the good and it tells the bad, but it does tell the whole story,” said Director of Transportation Diana Mikelski.
Matthew Reich, a Verra Mobility sales executive who oversees government solutions, said that the technology lets school bus drivers focus on the children rather than try to capture the information of an illegally passing motorist. It also allows district staff to process violator information more easily.
For districts looking to add such technology, Mikelski advised showcasing camera usefulness to the district financial team. She recommended experimenting with camera types and layouts to see what gives the best coverage. The cameras also capture evidence and help get to the bottom of the matter if there are student disputes, she said.
Taylor Moore, software specialist and sales consultant with technology supplier and Verra Mobility partner Radio Engineering Industries, said that both companies can draft up a solution unique to each district.
In states where photo enforcement does not apply, Verra Mobility and its government team will work with the district on how violators can still be prosecuted. Reich said the city council or school board may need to approve specific legislation.
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School district, law enforcement and community collaboration are important to create a united front, Reich said. Conversations must be had on topics like how fines will be spent and how law enforcement will respond for a successful implementation of stop-arm camera technology.
“It’s always hard when you bring something new in, but when you state the benefits and the positives, it turns that around,” said Mikelski.
Rivera-Irizarry noted that when a district decides to use a stop-arm camera solution, both district staff and local law enforcement should be trained on its use. Reich added that the Verra system for ticketing stop-arm violators packages relevant data to make it easier for law enforcement to enforce, which is appreciated.
Reich added that data from the cameras can be used for bus stop safety procedure training for both drivers and students, or to give law enforcement a heads up about a hot spot for stop arm violations. “Use the info to be more proactive rather than waiting for something bad to happen,” he said.
Mikelski added that these steps can help make the community more aware of illegal passing rules and Reich pointed out that the police involvement and fines can serve as a deterrent, both of which help improve student safety.
Education and awareness are crucial as most people take their drivers test once and afterwards may have a poor understanding of road rules involving a school bus, Reich said.
The conviction rate for violators who fight their ticket in court is about 80 percent when using the stop-arm camera video, Reich said.
It’s a myth that the technology is just a money-grabber, Rivera-Irizarry declared. In answering an attendee’s question about where the fines go, Reich explained that some of the money pays for the hardware and processing, and some goes back to the district, if allowed.
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Data & How to Use It
“Data provides power,” Rivera-Irizarry stated. “Use the data to make small shifts that impact student safety.”
Mikelski noted that there were “Big Brother” privacy concerns at first but that those have waned as cameras have become widespread and surveillance has become part of modern society. She also uses camera data to affirm and praise drivers who are doing things right and back them up against parent accusations.
Mikelski explained that the cameras often show things that transportation staff may not even be aware of, which may be disappointing but then provides an opportunity to correct unsafe situations or poor conduct. “You go looking for one thing, you find five others,” she said.
“You don’t know what you don’t know,” agreed Moore.
Reich added that data – like bus speed and how long the red or amber lights were on – is collected and provides a training opportunity if a citation cannot be pursued because a school bus driver did not properly perform the stop.
Moore reiterated the importance of using the latest technology like REI’s cloud-based Armor so the data is not only captured but also accessible in immediate, useful ways. Mikelski praised the solution, which allows her to access and download video from her office rather than going to pull it from a hard drive on a school bus. She said that she could get a call from a parent or school administrator and then have the applicable video downloaded in 10 minutes. The immediate turnaround is now a standard, not a luxury, she added.