Raleigh, N.C. — Legislation that would allow school districts to use bus-mounted cameras to catch and fine drivers who pass stopped school buses easily cleared a Senate committee Wednesday morning.
Under Senate Bill 298, school districts could place cameras on the sides of buses to photograph the license plate of any vehicle that passes a bus when its stop-arm is extended. Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Richmond, said the program is voluntary, and an outside vendor would pick up the cost of the equipment and issuing the fines in exchange for a cut of the revenue.
Violators face a civil penalty of $500, but McInnis said prosecutors could use the photo evidence to pursue criminal charges as well.
"Some little child will pay the supreme sacrifice of walking out in front of that car," McInnis said, citing a report that found more than 3,100 vehicles passing stopped school buses across North Carolina on a single day in March 2014.
"We've got to draw a line in the sand," he said, adding the civil fine wouldn't be "a sneak attack" because the buses would have signs notifying other drivers of the cameras.
Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, asked if the state is moving away from education and enforcement efforts to stop drivers from passing school buses toward a money-making opportunity, but Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, said the fine needs to be weighed against the cost of burying a child hit by a car at a bus stop.
The Wake County Public School System has side-mounted cameras on 16 buses but has had difficulty criminally prosecuting offenders, said Sen. John Alexander, R-Wake. Officials in the school district's transportation department "are just tickled to death" with the idea of being able to levy civil fines against them, he said.
The measure would assess the fine on the owner of the vehicle unless the owner could prove that someone else was driving at the time. Sen. Ron Rabin, R-Harnett, noted the bill doesn't include any provision for fining anybody other than a vehicle owner.
"Somebody ought to be paying the penalty," Rabin said, suggesting that the language be changed to clarify how to pursue payment if the vehicle owner wasn't behind the wheel.
After passing the Senate Education/Higher Education Committee on a voice vote, the bill goes to the Senate Judiciary II Committee.