New monitoring system to deter drivers passing school buses

News Reporter

The implementation of a new city ordinance that will fine drivers who pass unloading school buses on streets may increase safety for children in the coming months.

Under the ordinance, which was passed during a Jan. 7 city council meetings, cameras will be installed on San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District buses to help catch and fine violators who pass stopped buses. The $300 fine will be sent through the mail, similar to the process for red light violations caught on camera.

Officials need 45 to 60 days to “get all the bugs worked out and get the cameras installed,” until violations are ready to be sent out, said Howard Williams, San Marcos Police Chief. In the meantime, the plan is to spread the word about the new system, Williams said.

“An alarming amount of children get hit by cars passing school buses illegally,” said Iris Campbell, public information officer for San Marcos CISD.

Implementing a $300 fine will be beneficial to the community because it will give drivers more incentive to stop when children are getting on and off buses, said Campbell.

Busguard, the company installing the cameras on the buses, will receive 75 percent of the $300 fine, and the other 25 percent will be split between the city and the district, Campbell said.  

Within about three and a half months from September to the beginning of December 2013, 1,747 violations were recorded of drivers passing stopped school buses, Campbell said.

“I really hope (the ordinance) drives our violations down to zero,” Williams said.

Busguard is offering the School Bus Safety Program to San Marcos. According to the company’s website, the program is offered with no costs and helps the school district bring in funding.

Busguard will install cameras and monitoring equipment on the school buses and send a report once or twice a month to show where offenses occur most frequently, Campbell said.

“The whole objective is to keep our kids safe,” Campbell said.

Before Busguard, police officers followed buses during morning and afternoon rush hours to regulate violators, Williams said.  Bus drivers would bring officers on buses with them so they could witness violations, Campbell said. Before cameras, officers waited in the areas where the most violations occurred to ticket offenders.

“We felt like we needed to do something to try and stop this,” Williams said. “We had an opportunity to try and use an automated system so my officers don’t have to follow buses all the time.”

Steven Parker, assistant city manager, said he hopes the threat of a $300 fine will help deter people from passing stopped buses in the future.

“This is something that’s pretty prevalent, so it hopefully it will educate people,” Parker said.

Williams said an “incredible” number of violations from drivers passing stopped buses have been recorded and it needs to be reduced. Although San Marcos is a college town, the majority of drivers who have been recorded passing stopped buses are not college students, Williams said.

“Let’s face it. How many college students do you know that are up at 7:00, 7:30 in the morning passing school buses? Most of them are still in bed,” Williams said.

Many violations occur when people are in a rush trying to get to and from work and are simply not paying attention, Williams said.

“Admittedly, kids shouldn’t run out in the middle of the street, but we’re talking about kids,” Williams said. “We’re putting responsibility where it should be, I think, with the supposedly adult drivers out in cars to be responsible and not engage in conduct that’s threatening to our children and grandchildren.”

Officers will review video clips from the newly installed cameras and decide if a violation has occurred before sending out a fine, Williams said.