When the flashing lights go on and the arm comes down, drivers should be stopping as students get on and off the bus.
But many of them aren’t and to combat this issue, Williamsburg-James City County Schools are planning to take part in a pilot program to include the use of video surveillance cameras on buses, said WJCC spokeswoman Eileen Cox.
John Lambusta, senior director of transportation, said the district is considering partnering with two companies. The district met last week with a representative from BusPatrol and are currently trying to schedule a meeting with Verra Mobility for the beginning of February.
The district is planning to test the system with one or both of the vendors before spring break.
Both companies offer camera systems for school buses to monitor illegal activity during school bus stops.
Verra Mobility has a pilot program in Virginia Beach City Public Schools. David Tace, executive director of the office of Transportation and Fleet Services for VBCPS, said the company has provided cameras to equip 100 school buses in the system to monitor whether cars are illegally passing them.
The company provides the cameras to the school district without charge and in turn is given the money from the fines that result from the cameras’ use.
In Virginia, it is against the law for drivers to pass a school bus if the bus’s stop-arm is extended or its red lights are flashing.
If the red lights have only just started flashing or the stop-arm is not yet fully extended, drivers are still required to stop until students are finished getting on and off the vehicle and the bus is in motion again.
The only exception is if the driver is blocked from the school bus by a solid barrier, such as a median.
In a 2018 survey from the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, data showed that on a single day across 38 states as well as in the District of Columbia, 83,944 vehicles passed school buses illegal.
In the span of a school year, that totals to more than 15 million violations.
If drivers are caught, then they face fines and marks on their driving records, said Stephanie Williams, spokeswoman for the James City County Police Department.
But the issue is catching violators and that’s how cameras will help.
With Verra Mobility, cameras are activated by sensors when a bus’s stop-arm is deployed and can detect a vehicle passing in any direction. If a vehicle passes the bus, then the camera can capture license plates and the vehicle’s GPS location.
With BusPatrol, the cameras on the bus are equipped with GPS, video capabilities and data processing and archiving, according to the company’s website.
WJCC schools are still deciding which company to choose from, but plan on implementing a program in the near future.
Hampton and Newport News
Other public school districts in Hampton Roads such as Hampton and Newport News currently do not have exterior cameras installed.
Hampton is in the early planning stages of acquiring new school buses equipped with exterior cameras, said Kellie Goral, spokeswoman for the Hampton City Schools.
“The cameras will give us a visual of areas outside of the bus to assist with student safety,” she said.
Because the plan to acquire a new fleet of schools buses has not yet been approved, there is no information as to how many buses the fleet entails and when the school district would receive them.
On the other hand, Newport News Public Schools had “several” buses with exterior cameras as part of a trial period in 2016. After the data was released in 2017, the school board decided not to implement schools buses with cameras.
The 2017 report was not immediately available.
“There wasn’t a consensus to go forward,” said Michelle Price, spokeswoman for NNPS.
The school district does not have any plans regarding exterior cameras on school buses.
WYDaily reporter Julia Marsigliano contributed to this story.